PLANNING A RESPONSE
PLANNING A RESPONSE
311's role during a disaster should be clearly designated and its procedures fully documented. 311 staff may be trained in National Incident Management Service procedures or other specialized training. The 311 center may be embedded in the emergency operations center (EOC), as is the case in Riverside, Calif., or it may have a liaison in the EOC and vice versa, which is the practice in Hampton.
Before disasters strike, 311 staff can anticipate many of the requests that are likely to arise and develop scripts for staff to use in responding to the most common questions. In Hampton, the 311 center has prepared responses for a number of situations, ranging from hurricanes to a pandemic flu outbreak to an accident at a nearby nuclear facility. As hurricane season approaches, staffers review the relevant frequently asked questions, and when a particular incident occurs, the scripted responses can be modified to include more specific instructions.
Even with detailed planning and training, however, 311 administrators will encounter unexpected challenges during their first experiences with disasters. Gloria Bingham, director of the 3-1-1 Houston Service Helpline, says that her center's response to Hurricane Ike in September 2008 was more effective because of lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. For instance, the 311 staff was better able to anticipate specialized evacuation needs for bedridden residents or for people with pets. They also learned that people who have gone through hurricane trauma have different needs and may require more time from 311 operators. "Every customer is different, and we need to respond to them according to the particular situation they bring to the call," Bingham says.
Integrated technology, such as CRM and GIS software, is essential to 311 centers during emergencies. As 311 call takers document information and requests from residents, they can be grouped by map and zip codes, displaying where services need to be directed. In Orange County, Fla., first responders can log onto a secure Web site to report information directly to 311. The 311 center's technology displays the data on its GIS map, using symbols to show, for instance, where fallen trees are blocking emergency routes or where a power outage may affect medical supplies. "This is not just a pretty picture," says Lorenzo Williams, assistant manager of the Public Safety Commission Unit for Orange County, Fla., Government 311. The maps give people in the field or in the center the means to quickly review data for a better, faster response, he says.