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Rats in Human Services

September 7, 2012 permalink

The Barbara Roberts Human Services Building in Salem Oregon, headquarters for Oregon's social services, is infested with rats. Are they all rodents?



Rats! Oregon's health and human service headquarters has lots of them

Tom Barrows
Tom Barrows, landscape manager for the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, shows of one of the more than dozen rat traps in the state health and human services building. So far, 36 rats and three mice have been caught and killed.
Michelle Cole/The Oregonian

SALEM -- The first hint came in March with a complaint about noise in the ceiling. The first sighting came in mid-May. And the full magnitude of the problem became clear this month.


The Barbara Roberts Human Services Building, home base for the state's health and social service agencies, is infested. And, as of Monday, the rats were holding their own in the war to get rid of them.

"To date, 36 rats have been caught, all of which are second and third generation," wrote the chief operating officers for the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Human Services in an all-staff memo.

"We have been unable to capture rodents of breeding age, which is key to eliminating the problem," the memo reported.

To be clear, office buildings, just like your home, can host a rodent from time to time. But Tom Barrows, landscape manager at the state Department of Administrative Services in Salem, says he's never seen anything like this.

"It's not one or two sneaking in," Barrows said Monday. "We've got an actual breeding population inside the building. That's the most direct way to say it."

While the traps are snaring the innocent juveniles, the battle is escalating against the savvy adult Rattus rattus -- more commonly known as the roof rat. The gray critters -- with tails as long as their bodies -- do most of their feeding at night. There have been a few, however, spotted during the day.

No one has been hurt, but some state workers admit to feeling unnerved.

Approximately 1,300 people who work at the building have been ordered to remove all plants from their desks, as well as all fountains, fish bowls and vases. Forget about any cubicle candy dishes. Food should be limited to what the worker will eat that day. Liquid containers -- coffee mugs, soda cans, etc. -- must be emptied before staffers leave for the night.

Thanks to budget cuts a few years ago, employees already are in the habit of emptying their own desk area trash cans. Now they cart their garbage to one of the covered centralized stations provided.

No one is sure how the rodents got into the 20-year-old, five-story building. And, please, they say they've already heard all the jokes about rats and state government.

The rats appear to have taken up residence in the 12 inches of space under raised flooring constructed to hide the tangle of computer cables.

Barbara Roberts Human Services Building
No one is sure what brought the rats into the 20-year-old building.
Michelle Cole/The Oregonian

There are theories that last winter's flooding of nearby Mill Creek might have driven them in. But none of the other agencies lining Summer Street has reported problems.

The state has paid an outside consultant about $5,000 to help in the battle. This is Oregon, so no poison is being set out. Instead, officials are relying on peanut butter, bacon bits and bits of chocolate to lure the critters into snap traps.

Yes, they're killing them.

The traps, lodged inside black plastic boxes to spare workers a glimpse of the carnage inside, are strategically located throughout the building.

At this point the strategy is to remove all food and water sources and force the animals to seek out what's in the traps.

Randy Gengler, a manager responsible for looking after state-owned buildings says it will likely be a couple of months before they know "whether we've gotten them all out or not."

Why not bring in cats?

Apparently, many have made the suggestion. But Barrows, the landscape manager, says there are lots of reasons not to go there.

For one thing, he says, then you have to get rid of the cats.

Source: Oregonian