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“Successful rodent control boils down to how well you did the inspection,” said William (Bill) A. Kolbe, B.C.E., during the recent PCT Rodent Control Virtual Conference. Kolbe has 45 years of structural pest control industry experience and recently started a consulting business, Wakolbe Consulting, Denville, N.J.

“I highly recommend that all technicians have an inspection kit. Whenever I’m doing any kind of inspection, whether it’s rodents, termites or anything else, I like to go in with an inspection kit. It’s got all the tools I need.”

An inspection kit does more than keep your tools by your side or in your service vehicle during an inspection, it can elevate your status as a professional, setting you apart from competitors. Kolbe shared that when he walks into an account with his inspection kit in hand that he is “…also conveying to the client that I’m a professional. Any pest control operator can walk in with a flashlight and maybe a screwdriver. But when you walk in with a customized kit, whether it’s a commercial or residential customer, you’ll look different. You’ll look professional.”

CLUES EVERYWHERE. PMPs know many telltale signs rodents leave as clues to their identity and location, but PMPs need to look everywhere, Kolbe says.

“During an inspection, we’re obviously looking for rodent droppings, tracks, odors, sebum (grease stains), product damage, sounds, hair, urine stains, runways, burrows and, of course, sightings — any indications of activity.” Look for gnaw marks; remember that “mice prefer gnawing on soft things, while rats are more interested in hard items.”

Droppings are a clear sign of an invader. Document and clean up droppings. “We already know that in order to do a good inspection and write accurate reports, the droppings need to be removed. That way we’ll know if we have new activity.”

Don’t bypass these often-overlooked areas during a rodent inspection:

Drop ceilings. “Suspended or drop ceilings are often overlooked during inspections. In my opinion, it’s the No. 1 area to inspect. It’s an area conducive for rodents,” Kolbe said. “When we ask technicians if they looked above the drop ceiling, the answer, nine times out of ten, is ‘no.’”

Inspecting above drop ceilings should be a topic addressed during technician training for rodent control. “At a restaurant account I worked on we identified that rats were running up and down the utility pipes to gain access to the drop ceiling. There was a 30-40 second video clip from a monitoring camera we set up and in it we saw nearly 40 rats living in the drop ceiling. We even saw rats fighting to get into the drop ceiling.” Had the above-ceiling inspection not been performed, as well as using a monitoring camera, the rats and their numbers may not have been identified as quickly or easily.

Roofs. Roofs aren’t just for roof rats and are often overlooked. You may be searching for roof rats, but don’t forget Norway rats are also good climbers and mice may enjoy penthouse living too.

Inaccessible areas. For a thorough inspection, PMPs have to access all areas of a facility. It’s not unusual for commercial facilities, quick-service restaurants or more upscale restaurants to have areas under lock and key. If access isn’t granted to a technician it’s important for them to explain to management why they need access.

Multiple storage areas. Ask customers if they have more than one facility, either on the same property or at a remote location. The primary rodent problem may originate at one facility and inadvertently be transported to another. One example Kolbe offered was a food warehouse with a rogue rat. Even though management had not informed him there was another facility, he established a rapport with the receiving personnel, which led him to a remote storage location accepting store returns. The rat had likely gone from a store, to the return facility, then to the main warehouse.

If a customer hesitates to give you access, again, explain why it’s important for you to inspect all other facilities. You may have to do your own detective work if you feel you may not be getting the full story. Building trusting relationships can help.

INSIDE SCOOP. Employees who have been at a facility for a long time are often your best inspection resources. Kolbe suggests getting the longest-tenured employees on your team. The institutional knowledge “has been a godsend for me over the years.” Even when meeting with the vice president of a company, “I ask, ‘Who’s been here the longest, especially from engineering, electrical, sanitation and custodial departments?’ I want to talk to the people who’ve been around for a long time, because they know the building.”

At one account, Kolbe and his crew encountered employees who were purposefully not being helpful. “Every time we walked around employees were start yelling, ‘Oh! I saw it over there!’ ‘It’s over here!’ even though they had seen nothing. It became a joke for the warehouse employees. It was really quite annoying.”

In the end, Kolbe provided training for the warehouse employees.

CUSTOMIZE INSPECTION KIT. The most important tool in your kit is you and your knowledge of rodent biology and behavior. You have to know what you’re up against. “Think like a rodent,” Kolbe said.

In addition to your problem-solving skills, here are some items to consider for an ultimate rodent inspection kit:
  • ladder/s
  • hand-held internet access
  • notepad
  • LED flashlight
  • blacklight
  • multi-tool
  • collecting vials or dishes (plastic, no glass in food areas)
  • spatula
  • plastic bags
  • magnifier
  • broom and dustpan
  • garden tools
  • glueboards (for monitoring only)
  • non-toxic monitoring blocks
  • telescoping mirror (polished steel, no glass)
  • stethoscopes
  • moisture meter
  • infrared thermometer
  • high-volume air movers
  • flushing agent (compressed air)
  • safety equipment
  • personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • knee pads
  • food-area requirements (hair/beard/mustache covers)
  • drills and saws
  • digital camera
  • sewer camera
  • borescope
  • thermal imaging camera
  • stereo microscope (digital)
  • motion-sensing camera/trail camera
  • remote sensing units
Wakolbe Consulting
If you want to know where rodents are really hiding, ask the customer’s longest-tenured employees of the engineering, electrical, sanitation or custodial staffs.

GOOGLE EARTH. Google Earth may be the best way to begin an inspection at a commercial account. It gives you the lay of the land — literally — before you’re on site. Lawn service companies are also using the technology to provide prospects with a quote without ever having to physically go to the location. Google Earth can be a time and money saver. “In my opinion, Google Earth is a must for commercial rodent inspections,” said Kolbe. “I’ve been using it since it came out. When you’re asked to go out to an account you can use Google Earth to start your planning.”

Its usefulness is dependent on the image quality. Kolbe recalled zooming in on the home his father grew up in and could actually see the condition of the weather stripping on the front door. The Google Earth car was clearly able to capture quality images in this case.

Google Earth allows you to see areas you might not have access to during an inspection.
Wakolbe Consulting

Kolbe shared another personal perspective using Google Earth: his neighborhood. The image provided a broader perspective of the area. Zooming out one could see a large commercial bakery, a wooded area of deciduous trees and a small creek, all conducive to rodent activity. It’s good information to have before being on-site for an inspection and may offer a perspective you may not have had at ground level.

Google Earth also may help in identifying potential problem areas around a facility. You may not be able to access an adjacent property, but with the help of Google Earth, you might be able to get a glimpse.

KNOWLEDGE IS KEY. It’s vital to be able to differentiate rat and mouse droppings, and anything else that might be confused with droppings. If you can’t identify the rodent, it’s difficult to develop an effective treatment plan.

“I hired a college graduate with a degree in entomology years ago. I was training him on how to do an inspection. After completing an inspection, he included on his report that there were rat droppings. We had never seen a rat at this account — ever. He collected droppings in a plastic bag and brought them back to the lab. I started applying pressure to the droppings and they didn’t break apart like they should have. So I put them under the dissecting scope.

“I knew right away what they were. I pressed the technician, ‘Do you really think these are rat droppings?’ A light bulb went off and he realized his mistake. Looking closer, we found they weren’t even close to being rat droppings. They were little pieces of rubber eroding from a rubber mat. The small rubber beads were being tracked into the building. Of course, we had to amend the report. He learned the invaluable lesson of how to tell the difference between droppings and something else.”

Moral of the story: Even someone with a degree in entomology will benefit from real-world training and experience.

The author is a Florida-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to PCT magazine.