Housing employees’ dedication shines in sweep for bedbugs

Feb 24th, 2012 | By | Category: 2012, Campus News, Feb. 23

Keith Zaborowski has helped comfort tears.

He savors the high fives of a successful cook.

He arrives at 7:30 a.m. and stays late into the evening.

He missed parent-teacher conferences.

And, on lucky nights, he “sneaks” home to have dinner with his family.

So is life on the front lines of Housing’s massive sweep to seek and destroy bedbugs found in any of the university’s 3,200 residence hall rooms.

“It’s been a lot of hard work getting ahead of this, but every one of our Housing employees has been great,” said Zaborowski, assistant director of residence life. “We’re pulling people from across different areas to come in and help out. We are all working long hours. And it’s a pretty stressful situation. But you won’t hear one of our staff complain.”

Kelly Clark, facilities operations manager in the Abel-Sandoz residence hall complex, has been on call 24 hours a day since bedbugs were first reported Jan. 9. Along with his management duties, Clark is also a first responder any time a student reports a possible bedbug.

“There’s been more than a few nights that just I slept here,” Clark said, sitting at a desk buried in paperwork that has taken a backseat to the sweep. “But, when we receive a call we get the ball rolling quickly because it’s about these kids. We need to get them settled down because they already have enough to worry about. This is something that we can take care of for them.”

The room-to-room sweep of residence hall rooms with specially trained bedbug-sniffing dogs and handlers started Jan. 29 in Abel Hall. During that initial weekend, Clark said housing employees commandeered all Abel laundry facilities, from the basement to the 13th floor.

“We did more than 300 loads of laundry that weekend alone,” said Clark. “That was only the start.”

Individual floor and larger residence hall complex meetings led by Housing have helped educate students about bedbugs and the process to eliminate them. Zabarowski said education has helped alleviate the ick-factor that comes with the relatively unknown pest.

“There are still occasionally tears and no one is remotely happy when they find out a room has bedbugs, but our education sessions have helped students understand the process,” said Zabarowski. “Those sessions have been very helpful.”

Teams of around six housing employees work with specially trained dogs and handlers to scan rooms for bedbugs. Facilities workers alert students to the sweep and help prepare rooms for the dog — pulling items away from walls, opening drawers, removing items from closets and eliminating food sources that could distract the dog.

Residence Life employees work on the other end of the process, recording what the dog finds. Nothing found results in a note letting students know the room has been given an all clear. A positive hit brings a Residence Life employee in to help the student(s) prepare the room for treatment.

Treatment involves using specialized heaters, fans and probes that assure the room is heated to around 140° Fahrenheit and held at that temperature for four hours.
Under ideal conditions, students return to their room in about eight hours.

When rooms are “cooked” late in the day, students are relocated to temporary rooms. The students are allowed to remove necessary items from the room — change of clothes, books, personal items, etc. Those items are washed and dried when possible or heated in specialized bags purchased by Housing.

During the sweep, administrators recommend employees follow a containment procedure.

“We have uniforms that we wear in our day-to-day duties here at UNL and we bring a second set of clothes that we wear home,” said Clark. “At the end of the day, we bag up or wash and dry the uniform.”

Experts say drying clothes for 30 minutes on high kills any bedbugs or eggs that may be on clothing.

“It adds to your workload at work and home, but it’s worth a little extra effort,” said Clark.

That mantra is what has allowed Housing employees to remain upbeat during the long hours and stress of eliminating bedbugs in the residence halls.

“Housing employees at UNL have a reputation for taking care of students and going that extra mile,” said Clark. “It’s something we take pride in. And, if it means taking on a few extra duties or working a few extra hours, we’re going to jump right in and do it.
“That’s just who we are.”

— Troy Fedderson, University Communications

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