Rats, be warned. The city of Somerville is putting a pest control company's claim that it's built a better rat trap to the test.
Fifty SMART boxes were placed in various locations around Somerville this week in order to control the city's rodent problem as part of a five-month pilot program. The boxes electrocute the rats to instantly kill them. And Somerville's historic facial recognition privacy ban doesn't seem to offer rats the same protection from surveillance: they're now being monitored 24/7 by the SMART rodent capture devices.
"It is an automated rodent capture system," said Colin Zeigler, Somerville's Environmental Health Coordinator. "This machine is regularly reporting to us as to whether or not it's catching rats. We're able to determine whether or not that area needs additional treatment. We're also able to determine the number of rats that are being killed and determine whether or not that population is being reduced. And I'm hoping it gives us the type of results we're looking for."
William Haynes, vice president of marketing for manufacturer Modern Pest Services, said the SMART boxes are the most humane rodent control devices on the market. Without any poison involved, they don't pose a risk to the environment, either.
"It's a simple electrocution. The rodent just gets deposited right away within the box," he said. "There are no issues of bio-accumulation that could spill over into the local ecosystem."
New England is a rat's heaven, Haynes added.
"I mean, if you look at Boston, you look at New York, you look at other densely populated spaces, rodents — specifically the Norwegian rat that we're seeing replicate so quickly within our cities — loves our infrastructure," Haynes said. "They love the access to food. They love the access to water. And it's just a great place for them to proliferate, essentially without any predators."
Somerville is the second city to pilot the boxes, after Portland, Maine. The city is deploying the boxes in the four areas where it's had a concentration of 311 complaints about rats: Davis Square, the Gilman Street area, the Lexington Street area and the Macarthur Street area.
Ziegler confessed, laughing, that he's actually looking forward to the daily rodent report.
"We already have four confirmed catches," he said Wednesday night. "It's a weird highlight of my day, but I know that this program will help us move in the right direction."