Besides the three-digit 911 emergency number, America’s telephone companies and the FCC have adopted other three-digit numbers including 311. It was first implemented by the Baltimore (MD) Police Department on October 2, 1996 to handle non-emergency police calls. The 311 number was then approved for nationwide use by the FCC on February 19, 1997. The largest 311 operation continues to be New York City, which implemented 311 service in 2003. Since then most large cities in the U.S., Canada and Latin America have adopted the service. The 311 number has no connection whatsoever to emergency communications and is handled by a separate call center administered by a city or county.
Several major American cities have consolidated E-911 and 311. New York City is the most notable; however, other cities such as Chicago and Houston have undergone 911 transformations. In fact, having EMS, Fire and Police operating on the same system is becoming more standard around the country, than the exception. The nature of 311 and 911 calls are decidedly different. 311 calls can be routed through the phone system and data collection is not paramount. The same is not true of 911 calls, where caller-location information is critical and wasted time or a disconnection could mean the difference between life and death. It is important to note, however, that consolidation can provide important redundancy benefits.
During Hurricane Sandy for example, Rochester, NY, 311 received a significant call volume mostly related to non-emergency public safety information requests. The 311 system took significant pressure off the city’s 911 system. Rochester, New York’s 311 number, similar to most municipalities, provides citizens immediate access to City Government and all of its services. Live representatives are ready to assist 24 / 7 with the exception of major holidays. Generally, calls to 311 are routed to a call center handled by non-public safety personnel. A 311 call might actually be an emergency, and a 911 call might actually be a non-emergency. This set of circumstances creates several possibilities for call handling.
The acceptance of 311 service provides opportunity for co-location / consolidation within a Public Safety Facility. Although the call-takers cannot reside within the 911/PSAP, the sharing of a technology back-bone along with seamless routing of calls can be an asset and significant cost savings to the community.
Architects Design Group assisted the City of Rochester in planning for co-location / consolidation of 911 and 311 in a proposed new Public Safety Communications Facility.