3-1-1

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The telephone number 3-1-1 is a special telephone number supported in many communities in Canada and the United States which provides access to non-emergency municipal services. The number format follows the N11 code for a group of short, special-purpose local numbers.

The number 3-1-1 is intended in part to divert routine inquiries and non-urgent community concerns from the 9-1-1 number which is reserved for emergency service only. A promotional website for 3-1-1 in Akron described the distinction as follows: "Burning building? Call 9-1-1. Burning Question? Call 3-1-1."[1]

Many cities also accept 3-1-1 comments through Internet or smartphone interfaces. On March 3, 2010, the Federal Chief Information Officer of the United States, Vivek Kundra, announced the creation of a uniform Open 311 application programming interface for these services.[2] The online 311 service SeeClickFix is available across the United States but does not connect to municipalities with their permission or knowledge except in a few select cases.[3]

History[edit]

The first use of 3-1-1 for informational services was in Baltimore, Maryland, where the service commenced on 2 October 1996. 3-1-1 is intended to connect callers to a call center that can be the same as the 9-1-1 call center, but with 3-1-1 calls assigned a secondary priority, answered only when no 9-1-1 calls are waiting. This system is intended to extend the system such that true emergency callers are answered quickly with highest priority.

The largest 3-1-1 operation in North America operates in Toronto which was implemented in 2009.[4]

The CRTC formally reserved the use of 3-1-1 for non-emergency municipal services throughout Canada on 5 November 2004. The first Canadian 3-1-1 service opened in Calgary, Alberta on 18 May 2005.

The 311 code was previously used by some telephone companies for testing purposes. In Alberta, 311 was the automatic number announcement circuit (ANAC) until 1 April 2005 when this was changed to 958-6111 to make way for the present 3-1-1 service.

In former times, 311 was sometimes used as a fictitious area code in Bell System advertisements depicting telephones; often the phone in the advertisement would bear the specific number "Area Code 311 555-2368." This fictitious phone number was used in the 1979 horror film When a Stranger Calls, in the opening of The Rockford Files, the 1984 film Ghostbusters, and on two episodes of Mission: Impossible second season, episode 22 titled "The Killing" on the killers phone and, fourth season, episode 12, titled "Time Bomb" on a phone at a nuclear plant in a fictitious country. 311 555-2368 was also used in numerous episodes of The Bionic Woman as the private phone number of Jaime Sommers in her coach house. At the end of a 1963 episode of Route 66 "Kiss the Monster, Make Him Sleep", Linc calls his estranged father at a number having area code 311. The number 311-555-9845 was used for a radio station hotline in episode 1, season 1 of the TV show A.L.F. This area code is also used as the area code for Sunnyvale, California (which is in reality 408) in the 1983 movie WarGames during the "war dialing" sequence where the main character is searching for a video game company's modem pool.

Operation[edit]

3-1-1 service is generally implemented at the local level, and in some cities, it is also used for various municipal calls.

Examples of calls intended for 3-1-1:

  • dead animal removal
  • debris in roadway
  • illegal burning
  • non-working streetlamps, parking meters, traffic lights
  • noise complaints
  • Parking Law Enforcement
  • potholes, sinkholes and utility holes in streets
  • reporting stolen vehicles

Availability[edit]

United States[edit]

3-1-1 is available in several major American cities, including:

Canada[edit]

The service is available in the following communities (with starting date):

Similar numbers in Europe[edit]

Several European countries have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, non-emergency numbers similar to 3-1-1.

Sweden[edit]

Sweden has introduced a system where less urgent callers can call 114 14 to get connected to the local police-station. Depending on current load and situation, however, the call could potentially be connected to any station in Sweden. Calls to this number are charged according to the same rates as any other national calls.[10]

Finland[edit]

On a yearly level, the dispatchers in Finland's 112 service receive some 800,000 non-urgent calls. In order to curb this problem, which ties up precious resources, a committee proposes that Finland launch a new telephone number—116 115—for such calls. Calls to this number would also be free of charge.[11]

Germany[edit]

In Germany, 115 is currently introduced as a single access number to communal, regional and federal administrations.

United Kingdom[edit]

Currently, the UK government is implementing a plan that when complete will allow all local police departments in England and Wales to be contacted via the single number 101. The number, which costs 15 pence per call from both landlines and mobile phones, is intended for reporting of minor or non-emergency crime.

Usage[edit]

In Baltimore, 3-1-1 has been successful in dramatically reducing the cost of city services, but only in conjunction with that city's CitiStat service. Municipal officers of Baltimore do not recommend implementation of 3-1-1 services without first installing CitiStat. CitiStat is essential infrastructure to record and re-direct the service request information received through the 3-1-1 systems.

While Baltimore was the first city to use 311 as a police non-emergency number, in January 1999, Chicago initiated the first comprehensive 3-1-1 system, by providing information and tracking city services from intake to resolution, in addition to taking non-emergency police calls. When the new service was launched, information regarding all city services, service requests, assistance in reaching various city departments and public offices, and a variety of information ranging from information about the city's Blue Bag recycling program to special events schedules could be obtained by calling 3-1-1. This also supplanted the need to remember or find the number (312) 744-5000, which, until then, acted as a switching station for reaching various city departments and employees, as well as Chicago Police non-emergency (dialing this number today directs you to a 3-1-1 center operator from any area code). Since its launch, Chicago 3-1-1 has won numerous national awards, including the [Innovations in American Government Award][12] from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2003. In addition to providing seamless delivery of city services to residents, the call center serves as a backup to the City's 911 call center.

In Orange County, Florida in 2004 while the 3-1-1 system was being piloted three hurricanes struck Central Florida. The unusual occurrence damaged homes and businesses throughout the Orlando area. The pilot program used a seven digit number initially 836-3111 and it was this number that received the demands for post hurricane services. This experience tested and proved the value of the program and Orange County immediately activated the 3-1-1 number for governmental customer service.

In New York City, 3-1-1 is used by city officials as one of several sources of measurement and information about the performance of city services. Important dates in the history of New York's 3-1-1 service include December 20, 2005, when it received its record high of 240,000 calls, due to the first day of the 2005 New York City transit strike, and June 20, 2007, when it received its 50 millionth call.[2]

In San Francisco, 3-1-1 is the number for the City and County of San Francisco. Like New York City, it provides information for city services, such as transit information. San Francisco 3-1-1 was implemented in 2007 shortly after the launch of the T Third Street Muni light rail line. However, it has come under substantial criticism of late because the 3-1-1 system charges the financially strapped Muni system $1.96 for every Muni-related phone call. Some have criticized Mayor Gavin Newsom for stealing Muni funds into the 3-1-1 system. [3]

In the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, 3-1-1 is also used to find lost pets, get answers to questions about taxes, complain about needed roadway maintenance, get information about flood conditions, make non-emergency police reports, and other government services.[13]

The City of Philadelphia implemented the 3-1-1 service in 2008. The Philly311 Contact Center provides information to citizens and places service requests for departments across the city. These requests include but are not limited to: missed rubbish, graffiti removable, License & Inspection inquiries, and pothole repairs. Mayor Michael Nutter brought in Rosetta Carrington Lue to oversee the implementation of the service. Lue still serves as the Director of the Philly311 Contact Center in addition to serving as the Chief Customer Service Officer for the City of Philadelphia. Since Philly311’s launch, the City of Philadelphia has received the PTI award for Citizen Engagement 3 consecutive times. Philly311 receives over 1.5 million calls each year. In September 2012, the City of Philadelphia introduced the Philly311 Mobile App, which has since reached over ten thousand downloads.

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