Taking the burden off 911 with 211

Wednesday, September 17th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

In an emergency, people know to call 911. But for anything less urgent - figuring out who to call can be confusing. That could soon change. News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan has the story.

Florence Miles has emphysema and diabetes. She's on oxygen. And because of all her problems - she needs an air conditioner - something she can't afford, that she got anyway, because she knew to call the Tulsa Helpline. "They give you the people who to call to get in touch with about paying your bills and help you with medicine, what agencies to go to."

Florence's calls come to the Helpline call center. They take 28,000 calls a year - but believe they could do more if more people knew how to reach them. They support a national effort to make all social agencies connected to a single number - 211 - which would work a lot like 911.

David Bernstein, Tulsa 211 coordinator: “It costs you about a $1 per person to operate this 24/ 7. That's what holding us up, we have the training, we have the background we know what we need to do. Just put it all together, we could go with it.” The Tulsa Area United Way backs the effort to create 211. They believe it would help agencies coordinate their efforts.

And the people at 911 support it too. They take a lot of calls for non-emergency help. Dale Hunter, Tulsa 911 manager: “many of those would be well suited for the 211 environment. The impact we see for 911 is an offload of about 60,000 calls a year.”

Florence Miles thinks 211 is a good idea. She knows who to call - and thinks if everyone else did, they could get help too.

The Atlanta United Way started the first 211 service in 1997 - and since then the government has 211 as the universal number for social services.