It’s common practice that at a young age we teach our children to dial 911 when there is an emergency. This is a system that we take for granted in the event of a life-threatening emergency, but over the past decade, the calls making their way through to 911 have become a bit more tedious.

With an increasing non-emergency workload building up for 911 dispatchers, this is making it more difficult for local authorities and paramedics to remain available for true emergencies.

An estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the U.S. each year. In most areas, around 40 percent of calls that make their way to police dispatchers do not qualify as an actual emergency. These are calls like graffiti reports, trash on a neighbor’s lawn, a fallen stop sign, etc. These types of calls clog up the 911 system and make it difficult for authorities to respond to real emergencies.

Over 150 local governments have partnered with CitySourced to launch a 311 mobile app in an effort to improve the services provided to over 18 million residents. Honolulu, HI is one of those governments. Originally the Honolulu 311 app accepted reports of potholes, abandoned vehicles, and other basic resident services or complaints. Now, the Honolulu 311 app has started accepting parking, noise and traffic complaints, concerns of homeless situations, abandoned property issues, gangs, gambling, drug activity and additional crime tips.

Honolulu 311 Mobile citizen engagement app

“Through this app, we’ll be able to increase services to the community without adding any additional personnel,” – Honolulu, HI Police Chief Susan Ballard

Honolulu, HI isn’t the first and won’t be the last, to expand their 311 mobile app reporting capabilities in an effort to help reduce the workload of 911 responders who are responding to non-emergency calls.

Adopting a mobile 311 request system is a great way to limit the stress put on the 911 dispatchers, to reduce the amount of non-emergency calls of the line, and keep emergency responders ready for true emergencies. Implementing a 311 system could impact the quality of life in your community, and maybe even save someone’s life.

What is 311?

311 is a non-emergency call system that is growing in popularity around the country. This is happening mainly because of a surplus in non-emergency calls making their way into the 911 system. Police spend a majority of their time “checking in” on situations that may never require police intervention. While they are spending their time “checking in”, real emergencies may be happening that need police or EMT.

According to govtech, 311 is a non-emergency phone number that residents can call for more information about services and report minor problems like trash or road damage.

311 also serves as a valuable data capturing system so government officials can learn more about the residents of their community. During its inception in 1996, local governments gathered tons and tons of information about what bother residents most in their community – whether it be noise, potholes, abandoned cars, etc. This allows the people in charge to make changes in the community and improve the overall quality-of-life for residents.

How Does 311 Differ from 211?

The primary difference between 311 and 211 is that 211 is for community services that do not require intervention. When you dial 311, you are reporting something that you expect to change as a result of your call. When you dial 211 you a requesting community service or information for yourself or someone you know.

For example, someone might call 211 if they do not have food to feed their children and they need immediate government assistance. Someone may also call 211 if they were recently released from jail and are having a hard time finding a job. The service will connect them with someone in the community who will be able to help them with their situation. While these are important issues and it’s great to have this service available, these are not emergencies and should never merit a 911 or 311 call.

Using a 311 App

More and more municipalities around the globe are utilizing the growth and popularity of smartphones to automate the 311 lines completely. This eliminates the need for agents on the phone, reduces cost per transaction and it allows residents to track the results of their report in real-time. The great thing about using an app for reporting is that residents get immediately connected with their local government. The time for building a mobile city hall is now.

Instead of going to local town hall meetings every week residents can report any issues directly into the mobile app, take a picture or video, and send it in instantly. They’ll get status updates as progress is made by the government on the report. Some reports are more urgent than others, and you would expect quick results on something like a downed power line or broken streetlight. In these cases, residents can comment to check in on the status and governments can create escalation rules that would prioritize these situations for faster resolutions.

Overall, having a 311 app would make things simpler for the people in power, and it would give the residents quick and immediate access to their local government without having the added cost of a call taker. Let your call takers focus on higher priority issues and responsibilities.

The Positive Effects 311 Will Have on Quality of Life

The truth is, many local governments are overwhelmed by the number of reports they receive daily for non-emergency situations. These types of reports clog up the 911 system and keep police busy with claims that do not necessarily require their assistance. As communities continue to grow and technology becomes more advanced, we must grow along with it.

Many counties can only afford to hire so many 911 dispatchers, police, EMT, and fire crew so instead of accepting the surplus of non-emergency calls and forcing the true emergencies to wait on hold your municipality should optimize the system for the future.

Having a mobile 311 system clears the line for people who are dealing with a life or death situation, and it still allows the community to voice their concerns and make their reports without clogging the line. The system also allows police to have a running list of non-emergency situations they need to address when they can. Residents can also make anonymous reports if they are reporting possible criminal activity, gang violence, bullying, or domestic abuse.

With this level of citizen engagement, it is also useful for the municipality to capture this information and use the data for their own growth. Since everything gets done through an app, this data gets captured as a running total, and local authorities can then identify the most significant issues facing their community.  

One might notice that there is a significant amount of pothole reports coming in month after month so they should allow more of their budget to take care of that problem. A community may see that after every heavy rainstorm an individual section in the community is reporting high flood waters so they may want to investigate how they can prevent that in the future. The data gathered through a 311 system can help government leader make data-driven decisions and visualize problem areas that need addressing for rapidly.

“Thank you to all of the first responders and Military for serving our country to protect and uphold our civil rights.” – The CitySourced Team

The 911 system is one of the most critical government programs available to us as residents of this country. We are growing as a nation; we need to continue to grow our emergency response system and continue to educate the public and what should and should not be called into 911. Having a mobile 311 app will clear the line, so the people with true emergencies never have to wait on hold.

Free Guide for Government on Launching a new App

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