The County Voice

Meeting the Challenge: San Bernardino County’s West Nile Virus Aerial Surveillance Collaboration

April is National County Government Month. During the month, CSAC is producing a series of videos and blog postings highlighting California Counties’ best practices. The programs we are spotlighting are recipients of our annual Challenge Awards, which recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens.  The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The programs being highlighted are recipients of the 2013 awards. The Call for Entries for the 2014 CSAC Challenge Awards has been distributed; the entry deadline is June 27, 2014. 

To review a video about San Bernardino County’s West Nile Virus Aerial Surveillance Collabration, click here.

Most of us have swatted away marauding mosquitos, attacking from the sky—well now the mosquitos have to watch out for the air power too. In San Bernardino County, the Mosquito Vector Control Program is collaborating with the County’s Sheriff’s Aviation Division, and using state-of-the-art technology to identify potential mosquito breeding sites: unmaintained swimming pools.

In 2012, West Nile Virus – transmitted by mosquitos – was being reported at record levels. Dozens of cases occurred in San Bernardino County, where concerns were elevated over the fact that more than 18,000 homes in the County had been foreclosed.  Many of these residences included unmaintained swimming pools, ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos. Unfortunately, the County’s Mosquito Vector Control staff was only made aware of potential s breeding site when they received a complaint. This limited abatement since staff had few ways to find green pools on their own since most aren’t visible from the street.

No longer does San Bernardino County have to arrive solely on calls from neighbors. Aerial surveillance is now used to identify unmaintained swimming pools. Here’s how it works: During routine aerial patrols, the Aviation Division is able to identify and locate numerous green pools by using new technology that provides parcel information as the aircraft flies over. Addresses are then passed on to Vector Control staff, and they begin the process of working with the homeowner to alleviate the problem.

“This program allows us to treat pools we normally wouldn’t find,” explained Ron Berg, a senior technician with Mosquito Vector Control. He said the problem is magnified by portable pools that are blown up by air. “These pools are great for the kids for the weekend, but they are neglected very frequently because people aren’t used to having a pool. Because they are so portable, you never know where they are going to be. When the helicopter flies over, it instantly stands out as a nice green circle in the back yard.  We would never know about it any other way.”

This collaboration has been having very positive impacts; nearly 300 green pools were identified in the first year of operation – nearly two-thirds of the green pools addressed by Vector Control. And to put that number in perspective, take a look at these figures: Just one unmaintained 15-foot by 30-foot pool has the potential to produce more than 2 million mosquitos per week. Vector Controls staff estimate that the aerial surveillance program potentially prevent the production of more than 900 million mosquitos per week. Truly mind-numbing – or mind-buzzing – figures.

As a result of the Aerial Surveillance Collaboration, San Bernardino County has been able to reduce the number of West Nile Virus cases to below the national average. An added bonus?  The program requires no additional costs since the surveillance is conducted on regular patrols by the Sheriff’s Department.

This is a great example of county departments working together, developing a program that has no additional cost and attacks a potential threat to residents. This program has definitely created a buzz in San Bernardino County and beyond.

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