In an effort to provide non-emergency assistance to communities while taking the burden off of 9-1-1 call centers, The United Way and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) want to expand access to 2-1-1 systems across the nation.
The 2-1-1 System connects people with needed human services through an easy-to-remember three-digit phone number, the Web, and a variety of community interactions.
Linda Daily, director of 2-1-1 at the United Way, says the call centers help police officers by intervening and offering needed services before situations lead to larger problems.
“It’s not the daily emergency of there being a fire or needing police because someone is there holding a gun to your head in a domestic violence situation. But oftentimes one can help to prevent some of those emergencies by getting someone the assistance they need upfront,” says Daily. “It’s a way that we complement law enforcement and help to do some preventive work on the other side.”
When someone connects with 2-1-1, specially trained information and referral specialists analyze what services are needed and provide the appropriate resource and related information.
Despite the similarity in the two numbers, Daily says people do not confuse 2-1-1 with 9-1-1. “At one time, in the early stages of 2-1-1, there was some fear from some 9-1-1 centers that 2-1-1 was trying to take over or that people would become confused, but we have not found that to be the case,” says Daily. “We at 2-1-1 have been very conscious of the need to distinguish and differentiate between the two.”
Currently more than 60 percent of the U.S. population has access to 2-1-1, with more systems going live each month.
Senators Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have introduced bi-partisan legislation named the Calling 2-1-1 Act that would provide Federal funding for 2-1-1 and encourage support of it nationwide.
For more information about 2-1-1, including how to get your department or community involved, visit www.211.org.