- Educating tenants is a necessary part of bed bug control for multiple-unit housing.
- Use terms the public can understand to get your point across.
Like all organisms, bed bugs are perfectly designed to thrive in the niche in which they are found. OK — that’s a little heady, but it is true for bed bugs that their success is tied to human behavior. Humans live together, sleep in the same place every day, travel to and from one another’s homes and move objects. These are the very behaviors that cause bed bugs to proliferate. We can eliminate them where we find them, but if we can get the people to alter their behavior, we can multiply our success. And the best way to alter human behavior is education.
Speaking to tenants can be challenging. Be sure to cover biology and habits in terms the audience will understand. If you tell them the life cycle is about five or six weeks, they’ll nod their heads. If you show them a calendar and point out that an egg laid today will hatch in a week or two, and five weeks later (and five bloodmeals later) will change into an adult, they’ll get a real sense for how long it takes.
After covering basic biology and control, you should help them establish realistic expectations. Internet rumors lead to hysteria. They probably have heard that bed bugs can go for a year without a meal. It helps to explain that just because it has been documented once or twice doesn’t mean every bed bug can do it. I always ask them how fast a human can run a mile — and then ask whether any of them can do it.
Many tenants have heard how bugs can hitchhike, and could be terrified at the prospect of taking one home. Help them understand that a single bed bug has a long road to travel before becoming an infestation, and that knowledge and vigilance can help most people avoid infestations. It can be reassuring to point out that pest management professionals go into infested homes regularly, but we don’t get infested. Well, it’s happened, but most of us never have.
The most frequently asked question is “How can I keep the neighbor’s bugs from coming into my apartment?” And, of course, the answer is “You can’t!” but don’t ever say that! A better answer is to speak in first-person plural, to include everybody, such as “We can never be 100 percent protected, but we can use interceptors to add a level of protection and an early warning.”
Using plain language and terms your audience can relate to is your best chance to change their behavior.
You can reach Mark Sheperdigian, BCE, vice president of technical services, Rose Pest Solutions, Troy, Mich., at firstname.lastname@example.org.