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February 6, 2007 > 2-1-1 support system update

2-1-1 support system update

By Arnie Becker

As reported in TCV, June 20 ("2-1-1 resource line proposed"), a new, very innovative telephone system is being developed across the country, throughout California and in the Bay Area. The purpose of the 2-1-1 system is to provide a central telephone system to provide, primarily, emergency housing assistance, including referrals to substance abuse facilities. Medical or trauma emergency calls will continue with the well-established 9-1-1number.

Along with 9-1-1, the new 2-1-1 system will join the original quick-dial information number: 4-1-1. More recently, Bay Area commuters have had access to traffic condition information by dialing 5-1-1 and working through a series of voice-command options.

Development of 2-1-1 began in 1998 and through the hard work of people like Barbara Bernstein, Executive Director of Hayward's Eden Information and Referral organization. The system is on track to go live in Alameda and Contra Costa counties by July 1, 2007. These counties will than join the networks already on-line in San Francisco County and several others in Southern California.

Since late November of last year, the Contra Costa and Alameda County system has been in test mode, satisfying a requirement of the California Public Utilities Commission. Test mode means that all of the technical aspects of the service are receiving real-time trials, including the new phone system itself.

One aspect of the phone system that is still being negotiated is for cell phone users. What Eden I&R wants to ensure is that cell phone calls won't be routed to a regional 9-1-1 center, as currently occurs with most cell phone emergency dialings.

The new 2-1-1 system will provide the citizens of these two counties with a single, easy to remember, three-digit number to call for things such as emergency housing, AIDS/HIV support, child protective service, adult protective services, drug and alcohol counseling, finding an after school program for a child or securing care for an aging parent. And that's only the start.

Many more agencies will be linked into this system when it goes live later this year. It is anticipated that more than 140,000 calls a year will come into the 2-1-1 center with the potential of quickly helping those in dire need of assistance, and dramatically reducing the number of non-life threatening calls that go into the 9-1-1 system today.

Anna Eshoo, U. S. Representative for California's Fourteenth District, is introducing the "Calling for 2-1-1 Act," legislation that will provide on-going funding for the nationwide 2-1-1 system. The goal of Calling for 2-1-1 is to ensure that all Americans have access to quality community information and referral services. This act is strongly supported by the United Way and builds on existing efforts to make it easier to connect people with important community services.

As a measure of United Way's support they have signed a five-year partnership with Eden I&R that provides $150,000 in first-year funding. The primary purpose of the partnership is to help provide a seamless, integrated 2-1-1 Bay Area system. Included will be a standardized data and client information system, cross-training, technical assistance, and most importantly, mutual aid for back-up locations in the event of a local disaster.

Along with United Way, total private sector pledges reached almost $300,000 for the July, 2006 - June, 2007 period. Pacific Gas and Electric Company provided $50,000 in funding.

Additional support comes from the ten cities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties that are participating in the 2-1-1 system. Six are fully committed, but four others haven't fully decided. These four cities are Alameda, Oakland, Fremont, and Livermore. Bernstein is asking concerned citizens of these cities to contact their elected officials and press for full approval and funding of the 2-1-1 system. If these elected officials know the high level of citizen concern they are more likely to approve this funding sooner than later.

For more information on the 2-1-1 system contact Barbara Bernstein, (510) 537-2710; or email her at bbernstein@edenir.org. Her fax number is (510) 537-0986.

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