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2-1-1 is a special abbreviated telephone number reserved in Canada and the United States as an easy-to-remember three-digit telephone number meant to provide information and referrals to health, human and social service organizations.

Like the emergency telephone number 9-1-1, 2-1-1 is one of the eight N11 codes of the North American Numbering Plan (NANP).


United States[edit]

For many years, New York Telephone (now a unit of Verizon) used 2-1-1 as an automated credit request number for disconnected or mis-dialed calls. This service was in service from the 1970s through the early 2000s.

From many larger cities, the long-distance operator was[when?] reached by dialing 2-1-1 in order to place a long-distance call. The North American Numbering Plan later designated "00" for long distance operator access.

United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta was the first to introduce a 2-1-1 service in 1997. Many states began implementation plans soon after, aided by the United Way of America in partnership with the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS). On July 20, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved 2-1-1 for nationwide use as a short number in the United States along with 5-1-1. In Texas, particularly in the Coastal Bend area, 2-1-1 is also the number to call for elderly and handicapped people needing evacuation assistance in the event of a pending disaster such as a hurricane.

As of 2017, close to 95% of the population in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico and Washington, DC) has access to 2-1-1 services. More than 200 agencies, including United Ways, provide 2-1-1 services. The largest population without access to 2-1-1 is the metro-Chicago area. In 2017, the 2-1-1 network in the U.S. answered close to 15 million requests for assistance through phone, text, and web chat.


The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved the use of 2-1-1 throughout Canada on August 9, 2001. The first Canadian 2-1-1 service opened in Toronto on June 13, 2002. 2-1-1 services are free of charge and multilingual in Canada. It is also available in the Greater Montreal[1]


2-1-1 center hours vary. Many are open 24/7 to refer callers to organizations that provide services in such areas as:

Where available, 2-1-1 is operated by a private non-profit community-service organization, local government or local United Ways, which are part of the broader United Way Worldwide network. 2-1-1 provides information and referral to callers on where to obtain assistance from local and national social service programs, local and national governmental agencies and local and national non-profit organizations as well as where to volunteer or make a donation locally. Referrals are often given from databases accessed by call specialists. These databases are maintained by 2-1-1 staff following stringent data management guidelines. The databases are typically local but in some cases linked together to form statewide databases.

Many 2-1-1 centers are exploring Memorandums of Understanding with state and federal governments to facilitate the efficient handling of future disasters. Television or radio stations could easily tell citizens to call 2-1-1 in the event of an emergency. Call specialists at these centers would be informed of current disaster plans or places to receive help and could then inform the public of the correct course of action. After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the Gulf Coast region, 2-1-1 centers were instrumental in coordinating with local government officials and providing information to communities before and after local disasters. Furthermore, 2-1-1 providers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida were called upon to provide assistance to individuals fleeing Puerto Rico's devastation.[2]


United States[edit]

As of May 2017, the service is available in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. and 95% of the U.S. population has access to 2-1-1 services by dialing 2-1-1 on a landline or cell phone.[3] In 2017, the 2-1-1 network answered close to 15 million requests for assistance by phone, text, and chat.


In Canada, 2-1-1 is available in the following places (starting dates in parentheses). Note that this list may be out-of-date; 2-1-1 service coverage is generally expanding over time.

Nova Scotia211 Nova Scotia

  • province-wide (February 11, 2013)

Quebec211 Grand Montréal and 211 Québec régions

Ontario211 Ontario

Saskatchewan211 Saskatchewan

  • province-wide, web-only (September 2013)

Alberta211 Alberta

British Columbiabc211

The Windsor Star has reported on March 20, 2003 that Windsor, Ontario intended to have a 2-1-1 service up by 2009, as the Provincial Government allocated $311,000 to start it up, with much of the money being donated by the United Way of Canada, but had a set time limit on how long those funds would be available. On November 26, 2007, the City of Windsor's website announced that 2-1-1 service for Windsor and Essex County began, and was being run by the United Way (who also runs the local 3-1-1 service).

Plans to introduce 2-1-1 services are also in development in other Canadian communities.[6] Ontario extended 2-1-1 province-wide in 2012[7] and Nova Scotia's province-wide 2-1-1 deployment will be fully operational in 2014.[8] In British Columbia, 2-1-1 services are administered by bc211, and is available on Vancouver Island\Gulf Islands and in the Metro Vancouver, Squamish-Lillooet, Sunshine Coast Regional District and Fraser Valley and regional districts, with plans to expand the services provincially.[9]

In some communities, unused X-1-1 codes were assigned as plant test numbers for telephone installers testing individual lines. In the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, for instance, when 2-1-1 was dialed, it caused a busy signal to occur and the dialer's telephone line would "go dead" for several minutes afterward.[citation needed] These codes must first be "recovered" by moving the test functions elsewhere (958 and 959 are standard reserved local and long-distance test exchanges in most areas) to permit redeployment as local public information numbers.


United States[edit]

The American accrediting body for 2-1-1 centers is the Alliance of Information & Referral Systems (AIRS). AIRS provides an in-depth accreditation process for 2-1-1 centers. AIRS also certifies 2-1-1 Call Center Representatives as Certified Information and Referral Specialists (CIRS), Certified Information and Referral Specialists for Aging (CIRS-A) and Certified Resource Specialists (CRS) annually. AIRS standards have been created to provide a benchmark for 2-1-1 centers and its staff. The standards regulate nationally how a 2-1-1 centers provides services and how they collect and store information.

INFOLINE of Los Angeles, an information and referral services agency serving the greater Los Angeles area, developed a national taxonomy of human services that provides a standard language for information and referral providers nationally. AIRS adopted this taxonomy as its national standard for use in the field of information and referral. This taxonomy provides standard definition of terms, an exact coding structure for referrals and search methodology for providing referrals to consumers. More information about the AIRS/Infoline Taxonomy of Human Services can be found at www.211taxonomy.org.

Accredited 2-1-1 centers[10] must have active Memorandums of Understanding with local 9-1-1 service as well as domestic violence providers, elder care providers, mental health providers and local law enforcement to name a few.


In Canada, professional certification is handled by InformCanada [1]. The national 211 initiative is a partnership between InformCanada and United Way of Canada – Centraide Canada.

Work is underway to create a bilingual, Canadian Taxonomy of human services based on the AIRS/Infoline Taxonomy. This project is led by InformCanada and significant steps have been made on the creation of a starter taxonomy by the 211 Ontario phase 2 project, funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the government of Canada. Updates on the Canadian Taxonomy Project are maintained by 211.ca.[11]

Implementation process[edit]

The number 2-1-1 must be captured and approved for assigning through the local telecom companies providing services in the local area. The process of implementing a 2-1-1 service in a community has taken many paths since its beginning in 1997. Some places have a centralized statewide system while others have decentralized regional networks with different types of affiliations.

In the United States, each implementation is monitored by the national accrediting entity Alliance of Information & Referral Systems (AIRS) and its local statewide affiliate.

In Canada, the deployment of 2-1-1 service is subject to InformCanada accreditation and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approval.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://www.211qc.ca/en/
  2. ^ https://www.unitedwayhouston.org/flood
  3. ^ http://211.org/
  4. ^ "Social services just a phone call away with launch of 211". CTV News Channel (Canada). April 26, 2018. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  5. ^ "2-1-1 info line set to start". Ottawa Citizen. September 18, 2008. Retrieved September 18, 2008.
  6. ^ 211Canada.ca
  7. ^ http://blog.211ontario.ca/2012/02/211-ontario-helpline-goes-province-wide/
  8. ^ http://ns.211.ca/faq
  9. ^ http://www.bc211.ca
  10. ^ 3-Digit Numbers Used in New York City
  11. ^ http://211canada.typepad.com/canadian_taxonomy_news/

External links[edit]