Shelter Step Three

Step #3: Plan for The Future

Solving existing bed bug problems in your facility can be tedious and time-consuming.  Thankfully, you can take steps that can drastically reduce the number of pest control issues you experience or make them easier to solve.  Many of these measures fall under the umbrella of what is commonly called Integrated Pest Management or IPM.  IPM has applications beyond pest control in fields like agriculture and forestry.  We will use the term in a narrower sense.  When we talk about IPM, we are talking about environmental, physical, and other measures you can take to make your facility less hospitable to pests.  Many of these will be common sense.  For example, you have a kitchen and dining area within your facility, and recently you have noticed German cockroaches in this area.  In response, you make extra efforts to keep the area clean of food scraps and standing water at the end of meals.  By themselves, those steps might not eliminate a problem quickly, but they will certainly help.

Limiting a pest’s access to food, water, or shelter are common examples of IPM, and these steps could apply to different pests in a variety of circumstances.  Unfortunately, when it comes to bed bugs, we are the food source, and frequently our belongings and furniture are their shelters.  

However, there are other steps you can take to limit bed bug introduction into your facility.  The method we share in this section is extremely simple.  You may need to adapt it to fit your facilities’ intake process. Still, some of our customers have used this system to significantly reduce their incidence of bed bug introductions.

Eliminating Bed Bugs before They Enter Your Facility

Running a new resident’s belongings through a ZappBug Oven 2 or dryer on high heat is lethal to pests.  This single action is probably the most crucial thing you can do to prevent pests from entering your facility.  Ideally, you should train your staff to heat items as part of your intake process.  We will outline what we consider to be a relatively comprehensive treatment process in this section.  We will also provide presentations you can use to train your staff to complete this process.  You may need to modify some of these steps to fit your facility or the population you serve, and that is fine.  The most important thing is to apply your process consistently with residents as early in the intake process as possible.

Separate items as soon as they enter the building.  You can use a large plastic bag for this process, but we prefer a color-coded plastic tote with a sealable lid.  Plastic totes are unlikely to rip or break.  They are easy to access during your intake process in case a resident needs to retrieve a form of identification, or another item from their belongings before they have been inspected and treated.  And they are reusable.  Finally, if the plastic tote is color-coded or marked in another way, it will help mark belongings as untreated/uninspected. 

When you are ready to inspect and/or treat a client’s possessions, we recommend that you complete this process close to the dryer you will use to heat items.  Or, if you have a ZappBug heat chamber we recommend that you complete this process next to the chamber.  Assuming the client has their possessions in a piece of baggage, such as a duffle bag or backpack, we recommend that you empty items from the baggage into the plastic tote, then place the baggage into the chamber.   Place other items into the chamber as you note or inspect them.  Take care not to place items anywhere besides the tote or the heat chamber.  If you must place items on a third surface, use a white or light-colored surface free of clutter in a well-lit area where bed bugs and pests are easy to detect. 

When you have placed approximately half the resident’s items inside the chamber, check the temperature sensor and handheld monitor included with your chamber.  Place the sensor near the center of the client’s items and then add the rest of their belongings to the chamber.  

There are a handful of items that should not be placed in one of our heat chambers such, as aerosols, candles, and items made of wax, and pharmaceutical products, for instance.  However, you should treat as much as you possibly can.  Ideally, you would even treat some or all the clothing that your client or resident is wearing.   This will require you to have some clothing on hand to temporarily lend to the resident while the chamber is heating.  If this is not possible, consider at least heating items like shoes, jackets, hats, etc.

If possible, place the plastic tote you used into the heat chamber with the client’s items.  If there is no room or the tote will restrict airflow, you may place the lid back on the plastic tote and treat it after the client’s possessions have been heated.  Do not use this tote for another client’s items before it has been treated in the heat chamber.

Once you have heated the resident’s items above 120 ℉ (50 ℃) for one hour, you should feel free to let them take their possessions back to their living area.  The client’s belongings can be placed back into their luggage, or you can move these to a different colored tote or another container.  The advantage of issuing a standard container of some kind is that it will probably be much easier to inspect and treat when bed bugs do make their way into a living area.  Totes also have the advantage of being relatively tall and are made of nonpermeable materials.  This will help contain most wingless pests like bed bugs.

We recommend going through this process with every new admission.  Depending on how you regulate client’s access to and from your facility and the number of people you shelter, this may be difficult.  If clients can park their cars outside the facility and freely enter and exit, it will be harder to regulate the passage of people and items that could potentially harbor pests.  Unfortunately, it is not realistic to expect 100% cooperation from clients and staff.  People make mistakes, and you will likely encounter bed bugs and other pests from time to time, even if you attempt to treat every item.

However, treating people’s belongings will drastically reduce the frequency of pest introductions.  Shelters and other facilities we have worked with reduced their bed bug introductions and/or costs by 50% to 80%.  Fortunately, there are other strategies and practices that can help you contain and manage pest problems when they occur.  We will discuss these in greater detail in the next section.

Conclusion

The key takeaway from this section is to treat as many items as possible as early in the admittance process as possible.  Completing this one step will significantly reduce the number and severity of bed bug problems you encounter.  Use the PowerPoint presentation below to train your staff and, if necessary, customize or alter it to better fit your existing processes.  Even if you are unable to treat every item every time, remember that a 50% to 80% reduction in bed bug introductions is a worthy and achievable goal.