211 To the Rescue-United Way of Genesee County Flint Water Crisis
When local leaders declared a public health emergency in Flint last fall and advised residents to stop drinking their lead-tainted municipal water, the questions immediately starting flowing from panicked residents:
- How do I get bottled water?
- Which water filters safely eliminate lead?
- Is the water safe for bathing?
- Can I cook with the water?
- What about my pets?
- How can Ihelp the people of Flint?
United Way of Genesee County 211 To the Rescue
It’s vital that in any crisis situation, people get quick, accurate and consistent answers.
Providing those could have been time-consuming and complex, given the magnitude of the lead-in-water crisis.
For Flint residents, those answers were available by dialing just three numbers on their phone: 211.
Genesee County’s 211 system, part of the regional Central Michigan 211 system, is a United Way-funded service to provide quick and easy access to information about health and human services.
Calls to 211 are answered 24 hours a day by contact specialists trained to Michigan Alliance of Informational and Referral Standards.
Jamie Gaskin, United Way of Genesee County CEO, said 211 geared up in a crisis management mode, with operators quickly being educated on all aspects of the Flint water situation and where to direct callers for help and answers.
The service has acted as a clearinghouse for both those affected by the water crisis and those who want to help.
“It’s a one stop place for people to call to get the information they need,” Gaskin said. “They get simple answers and there is a call back feature so they don’t have to wait on hold during peak calling times. “It was the perfect service for what we were facing.”
According to the state 211 website, there were more than 4,300 calls to 211 from Flint residents in the first three weeks of January, far above the 1,100 calls to the service from Flint for all of 2015.
The statewide system is no stranger to crises, gearing up in weather emergencies such as ice storms and flooding, as well as offering foreclosure prevention information during the housing crisis.
Those are just a few of the services 211 offers. The system’s database is linked to 7,500 agencies that provide 29,000 services. Eight regional centers are operated independently to cover 99 percent of state residents.
United Ways across the country have been instrumental in setting up 211 systems for the past 15 years. The Federal Communication Commission assigned the 211 number for health and human services information, following in the footsteps of 911 for emergencies and 411 for directory assistance.
By Amy DeGeus
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