Pa. dispatch center blasted for bed bug 'hysteria' costing $100K
After finding a single bed bug, the department hired an exterminator, set 140 traps and moved employees into trailers while the building is treated
By Aaron Aupperlee
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — Allegheny County's response to a single bed bug found in its 911 dispatch center is ridiculous, stupid and a waste of money, a Virginia Tech entomologist said Tuesday.
Dini Miller, a professor at Virginia Tech specializing in urban entomology, said public officials have tended to “go nuts” when they find bed bugs.
“People have got to not lose their minds over an insect,” Miller said. “The important thing is to have a plan and not lose our marbles and start throwing money at these bed bugs.
“That kind of decision making is just stupid, period. It's hysteria.”
A dispatcher found one bed bug Friday at the county's Point Breeze headquarters on North Lexington Street. The county paid Terminix $12,000 to set 140 traps during the weekend but caught no additional bugs. On Tuesday, the county relocated dispatchers and supervisors from the 911 center to three backup locations so crews could treat the building and clean workstations and other equipment. The cleaning will cost $33,000 but was budgeted and originally scheduled for later in the year.
“We decided to err on the side of caution because our employee safety is just as important as public safety,” said Amie Downs, a county spokeswoman.
A woman working in the county's Department of Human Services' Office of Children, Youth and Families office at the North Lexington Street building claimed she was bitten by a bed bug over the weekend. Downs said the county has not yet confirmed it was a bed bug bite but is working with the building's property manager to make sure the entire building gets the same treatment as the 911 center.
The North Lexington Street building, which houses the 911 dispatch center and offices for county police, and the Office of Children, Youth and Families, is owned by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority and is managed by Baker Young Corporation.
Chief Alvin Henderson, head of county emergency services, said the department is using the situation as an opportunity to test 911 dispatch relocation plans to deal with worst-case scenarios.
Dispatch operations moved from the normal center at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to a training room inside the headquarters, mobile command trailers stationed in the parking lot and Pittsburgh's old dispatch center in the Strip District.
The union representing dispatchers had raised concerns about the condition of Pittsburgh's old dispatch center. Union leaders who toured the Railroad Street facility Tuesday said they found no major issues but did say the backup center was not sufficient because it is too small.
Henderson said every dispatcher will have a seat.
Henderson did not have a final cost for moving dispatch operations and treating for bed bugs but expected it to be less than $100,000.
Miller suggested the county kill the one bug found and set up monitors, which cost about $5 apiece, to see if there are more bugs. Bed bugs have evolved over time and are resistant to many insecticides sprayed to prevent them, she said.
©2015 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)