Emergencies strike at any time and any place and September 11th was a prime example of a national and an international state of emergency. Ambulances, police, firefighters, construction workers, doctors, teachers, and many more social and human service providers were called to duty. This terrorist attack was an awakening that 911 emergency services are not enough. 211 services were spotlighted as a potential communications solution soon after September 11. Also 211 could improve the way people connect everyday to human services in their communities. Some of the identified benefits of 211 for individuals, referral agencies, taxpayers, and society are: access to community information, shared data collection among communities, enhanced information for community planning and collaboration, reduced burden on 911 system, and better and more efficient response to human needs (Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources, Dec. 2004). The California Wildfires, Florida Hurricanes, and Hurricane Katrina are real cases of natural disasters when 211 services played a critical role in emergency services (Case Studies Section, pg. 16).
Why do people contact 211 operators or web call centers?
Table 1 (p.2) describes the types of referrals made by 211, but depending upon the region where 211 offers services, the popularity of referrals vary. For instance, between two counties in Southeastern Michigan the top two service referrals in December 2007 were #1 Food Pantries and #2 Holiday Gifts & Toys in Wayne County vs. #1Rent Payment Assistance, and #2 Food Pantries in Oakland County (United Way for Southeastern Michigan, 12/2007). Table 4 displays an overall summary of the most popular referrals provided by 211 services based on selected state data.
As shown in Table 4, housing/shelter is the most frequently requested 211 referral, second is utility bill assistance and third is rental assistance. Although Table 4 only shows a sample of call data across the U.S., the ranking of referrals also follows a national trend in relation to housing affordability and skyrocketing energy costs. Within the top five categories there is consistency among selected states, but there is also deviation. For instance, in Vermont legal assistance and tax organizations and services are popular but not for any other state in the table. This deviation emphasizes the importance of varying needs based on location. Of course, a further profiling of callers would be required to better assess calling patterns.
Table 4: 211 Call Referrals by Categories and by Region (Selected Data)
Caller Profiles: Who calls and benefits from 211 services?
There are a number of factors that will determine a caller's profile when dialing into a 211 call center including geography, accessibility to human services information, and awareness about 211, or even disastrous conditions. However, when determining benefits of the 211 system it is important to consider characteristics of callers and how they benefit from the 211 service. Some 211 organizations are tracking caller profile data so they are able to best ascertain the needs of receiving communities.
Below is a comparison of selected statistics from caller profiles for 211 Regional Areas in Southeastern Michigan and San Bernardino County. San Bernardino and Southeastern Michigan are very different regions but there are still some similarities between the backgrounds of callers profiled during the timeframe of the report. Caller profile data is self-reported and not representative of all callers therefore the data represented below is only based on available information to operators; income data in particular was the least answered question.
This is helpful information in determining the needs of communities however generalizations or conclusions cannot be made. If 211 became a fully operational national system then collecting national data could be helpful in quantifying and measuring the benefits of referrals made by 211 around the country.
Examples of 211 demographic data
In both San Bernardino County and Southeastern Michigan, females called more in June 2008 than males, by a 4:1 ratio.
In San Bernardino County the top two age categories of callers were 30 to 39 and 20 to 29. In comparison, in Southeastern Michigan, the age of callers was slightly older with the top age categories of 30 to 39 and 40 to 49.
Additionally, Southeast Michigan had slightly more callers who claimed a status of employed than San Bernardino. Southeast Michigan 33% vs. San Bernardino 28%