City develops text-based messaging service to report rat problems

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published April 18, 2017

 A new texting service called “Rat Chat” allows Ferndale residents to send the city information and questions regarding rats or rat sightings.

A new texting service called “Rat Chat” allows Ferndale residents to send the city information and questions regarding rats or rat sightings.

Screenshot by Mike Koury

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FERNDALE — A new texting service is available for Ferndale residents to report rodent problems and get advice to combat them.

The service, called “Rat Chat,” is an automated, text-based messaging service that allows residents to send the city information and questions regarding rats or rat sightings.

“Every urban community has at least some concern about rodents,” Community and Economic Development Director Jordan Twardy said. “It’s something that obviously our residents are very engaged (in) in the community, and when it comes to issues, they want to be informed of any kind.”

To access Rat Chat, once a person spots a rodent or evidence of a rat, they can text “RAT” to (248) 206-3149. An automated response will be sent back with instructions on what to do next. As it is a text-only application, phone calls can’t be made on this line.

Rat Chat was designed by students from the University of Michigan’s School of Information Citizen Interaction Design program for Ferndale specifically, though other communities have since reached out to communicate their interest in it. It did not cost the city anything to develop.

Information gathered from the service gets sent to the city and logged into a database, which allows city staff to learn about specific issues and either investigate, follow up and/or provide resources for residents.

“The students, when they did their research, they engaged residents, businesses — they even talked to us,” Twardy said. “But then their focus was, ‘What is the path of least resistance for the resident?’”

He said the students focused on developing something that didn’t cost a lot of money and was easy to maintain.

Twardy said that for people who don’t have smartphones, they can come to City Hall and get in touch with the city for help.

“We had developed a lot of processes to systematically deal with rodents,” Twardy said. “We’re being proactive with code enforcement. We’re putting out fact sheets. But this was a way that if you’re not seeing that for some reason, if our info is not getting to you or you just don’t know where to find it, this is a way for you to tap us on the shoulder and say, ‘All right, I’ve got questions, I saw a rat,’ or whatever. And now you can get directly in touch with those resources.”

Mayor Dave Coulter said that Ferndale, as well as neighboring communities, has had rat problems for decades.

“Rats are just an issue that you never totally eliminate, but you kind of manage,” he said. “And with the increase in restaurants downtown, that certainly causes an increase in the rat population.”

Coulter went on to say that he thinks the way the residents interact with local government is changing, and the city is adjusting accordingly with services like this.

“People are very used to using their cellphones and apps for all sorts of things,” he said. “This is just a natural evolution that you could communicate with us through your phone as well. I think it will make reporting (rats)convenient for residents, and it will help the city better track who’s calling and where the issues are. I just think it’s sort of a 21st-century solution to an age-old problem.”

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