During a disaster or large emergency, people need immediate, reliable information that informs then what actions they may need to take to stay safe or get help. Reading an alert, tweet, or news clip is often not enough information, leaving unanswered questions and sometimes spreading misinformation or creating panic.
211’s around the U.S. serve as disaster information hotlines to fill that need to be able to answer people’s individual questions and provide calm, clear guidance for their specific situations. 211’s are a critical part of disaster response and recovery infrastructure, and work closely Emergency Operations Centers to maintain up to date information on the status of a disaster incident as well as resources available to the public.
In Los Angeles County, 211 LA has long partnered with the LA County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) within the Chief Executive Office to provide the Disaster Public Information Hotline. (Read our Profile on OEM for an interview with Emergency Program Manager/Public Information Officer Ken Kondo) 211 LA is a critical resource before, during, and after disasters for:
1.) Emergency Preparation - we distribute emergency preparedness materials and information at community outreach events and by mail upon request
2.) Disaster Response - We provide the public a single source for verified information and resources
3.) Recovery - We take damage reports and connect people to relief and recovery resources, including possible in-person assistance at local recovery centers.
Why use 2-1-1 for Disasters?
- It’s an easy to remember 3 digit number with 24/7 live coverage, reducing the need for many individual community information lines.
- Eases pressure on 9-1-1 and first responders by handling non emergency calls.
- Efficient and trusted referral resource; “one stop shop” for verified disaster related resources
- 211s have existing infrastructure for all communications channels, and can rely on the nationwide network of 211 centers to provide backup call handling for large scale events
- 211 staff training and experience with crisis calls, assessment, and referrals helps people experiencing disasters remain calm, interpret and apply emergency instructions, and coordinate assistance.
- 211s gather vital disaster-related data that assists in assessing community needs during and after events.
211 LA’s Disaster Response Approach
Tough Questions in Difficult Situations
When it comes to disasters, information alone often isn’t enough. People are scared and confused, and often seeking guidance on tough questions like:
- “I’m in a wheelchair and don’t know how to evacuate”
- “I don’t want to leave my pets behind, is there anywhere I can take them?”
- “Is it safe for me to return home?”
- “The food in the fridge went bad, can I get reimbursed?”
- “I’ve lost everything, is there anyone who can help me with finding new housing and a deposit?”
- “I’m really sad and don’t know how to deal with what’s happening.”
The people experiencing disasters are in unimaginably difficult situations, and sometimes there are no easy answers for them. But trained 211 providers will always try to offer them support, empathy, and any resources available to help with their situation - and that can make a huge difference for people in crisis.
What do people call 2-1-1 for during disasters? (actual requests received from disaster calls)
- Emergency preparedness information/materials
- Incident information/updates
- Evacuation area information
- Road closures
- Emergency transportation/Paratransit
- Emergency shelter
- Pet/large animal sheltering
- Food, clothes, and medicine/prescriptions
- Health clinics/County hospitals
- Vaccinations/Disease control
- Missing family
- School closures
- Return to home information
- Power outages/utilities
- FEMA registration/State benefits
- Mental Health/trauma/PTSD
- Debris removal
- Damage reporting
- Housing assistance
- Disaster relief
- Insurance inquiries