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November 18, 2016

How 311 Call Centers are Transforming Municipal Emergency Responses (Part 1)

When 311 call centers were initially launched more than 15 years ago, many municipalities welcomed them as a channel to offload a huge influx of non-emergency calls that were flooding 911 dispatch centers. The 311/non-emergency call centers have been successful in meeting that objective. Based on the more than 50 311 projects in which I have worked over the past 10+ years, we have seen a drop in 911 calls of 20-40% when 311 or a non-emergency call center has been introduced. However, call off loading was low hanging fruit. In this three part series, I'm going to look at some examples of cities who have used 311 call centers to play a much more pivotal role in supporting communities when emergencies occur.

Many cities have been deluged by snow in the past few years, and those cities that have deployed a 311 call center have been leveraging it as a communications tool to keep citizens informed of road closures, plowing updates, and even school and municipal office closures. During this previous winter, Buffalo and Boston used 311 to inform citizens of how they were addressing weather-related issues. In Illinois, Chicago and Elgin used a multi-channel approach to keep citizens aware of their success in addressing snow issues, leveraging Facebook, a mobile app, and even texting to communicate weather updates to their citizens.

Miami-Dade County, which has one of the oldest 311 centers, has been for years using technology to proactively communicate with its citizens regarding storm updates. Most notably in 2005, the 311 center was used to provide citizens warnings about Hurricane Wilma, including how to board up houses, safe places to go, and even how to address post-storm insurance issues. More recently in August 2015, 311 was used to share information about tropical storm Erika.

There are so many other great examples of 311 being used to support emergency operations, such as Philly311 and NYC311 being used to support residents before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy. Another example is how Albuquerque and Houston's 311 call centers were utilized to help support the re-location of residents fleeing Hurricane Katrina.

October 15, 2016

Mobile Citizen Engagement Tools

The big three local government mobile app companies of SeeClickFix, PublicStuff, and CitySourced have blanketed the United States with customized mobile apps that for citizens and government users to more effectively communicate and influence change to improve their daily lives. All three provide tools to submit and track non-emergency issues through their apps and via the government's website. In addition to these seasoned veterans of direct mobile citizen engagement, many local governments are turning to new tools to better connect with citizens. Mindmixer is a virtual town hall where constituents can meet and share ideas.

For example, Boulder, CO used it to host a competition for the design that would be printed on 30,000 reusable bags. In Park City, UT, a resident used Mindmixer to submit an idea for a community composting program that the city later implemented. Granicus's CivicIdeas platform called SpeakUpAustin by the City is designed to ranked ideas that would improve the quality of life for residents, many of which have become reality. Peak Democracy's Open Town Hall is a community forum used by Palo Alto, CA, Aspen, CO, and Ann Arbor, MI to better engage citizens online. Some cities provide links to and encourage citizen-to-citizen interaction to solve problems.

The City of Philadelphia recently launched the myPhillyRising web app that is specifically tailored to 15 neighborhoods with virtual bulletin boards that list events, resources, and facilities such as computer labs and farmer's markets. Miami-Dade County's myGovIdea is home-grown platform for citizens to submit ideas, vote on them, and have the County's Idea Specialists facilitate the government's response and implementation. These are just some of the many exciting examples of the existing and evolving tools for mobile and web citizen engagement. To learn more, contact us at




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