Answering the Call

311 system helps New York respond to recent emergencies.

by / October 24, 2003
New York City's 311 system fielded more 150,000 calls during the massive August power outage that darkened the city and much of the Northeastern United States.

The city's customer service response system, launched in March, delivered information to an average of 7,500 callers per hour during the blackout, said Annette Heintz, executive director of New York's 311 program. In all, the 311 system handled 152,000 callers from the start of the outage on the afternoon of Aug. 14 to midnight the next day, she said.

"This type of technology is very relevant to city government," said Heintz, noting that the 311 system helped divert calls from New York's 911 emergency call centers during the incident.

Call volume for the 311 system spiked again Oct. 15 when a Staten Island ferry slammed into a maintenance dock, killing 10 people and injuring dozens. The system received almost 2,000 calls within two hours of the accident -- and 3,500 calls total -- from concerned families and commuters searching for alternate transportation, Heintz said.

Heintz, along with 311 Project Manager Katrina Zafiriadis, gave a 311 progress report at Government Technology's New York Technology Forum in Brooklyn Thursday. They said the system quickly has become a central point of contact between New Yorkers and the city government.

The volume of calls flowing into the system -- which gives residents a single number to call for a broad range of city information and services -- has climbed steadily since 311's introduction, said Heintz. The system now receives close to 20,000 calls each day, and it's on track to handle 5.5 million calls annually.

In the forum's opening remarks, Gino Menchini, commissioner of the New York City Department of Information Technology, called the citywide 311 system a model for future technology projects, especially given the challenging economic environment.

"There isn't going to be a lot of money coming, so we need to work together. We need to work smarter," he said. "311 is the case study for that. It's a tremendous example of what you can do in a short amount of time."
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