EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – September 10, 2003

A New Essential Link for Disaster Information

Burt Wallrich
President, Emergency Network Builders LLC

Amy Sebring
Moderator, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Today we will be discussing the implications of the national 2-1-1 system as another tool for disaster public information. This session is particularly timely, in that we have learned that on September 17, there will be a press conference to introduce new legislation, "The Calling for 2-1-1 Act of 2003." This is non-partisan legislation to provide $200 million in federal funds to support implementation of the national system, and is co-sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Dole and Hillary Clinton, and Representatives Anna Eshoo and Richard Burr. United Way Board Member George Clooney is scheduled to speak at the press conference. For further information and to access a form letter of local endorsement, visit the AIRS Website at: http://www.airs.org/news/news_news.asp

Now, I have the pleasure of introducing today's speaker, Burt Wallrich. Burt has many years of experience with coordinating the use of local Information and Referral (I&R) Services for disaster information and has written extensively on the concept of inclusive community preparedness networks and conducted trainings and workshops around the country, helping to build them in other areas.

From January, 2001 to June, 2003, he was Coordinator of the effort to implement 2-1-1 dialing throughout California. He is now President of Emergency Network Builders LLC providing consulting services to emergency management agencies. Welcome Burt, and thank you for joining us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Burt Wallrich: Good morning. The last EIIP forum focused on the Emergency Alert System. This week I will discuss another way to provide people with pre- and post-disaster information: 2-1-1. I will use the examples of New York and Connecticut following the 9/11 attacks to show that 2-1-1 should be part of every community's emergency information plan. Beyond 2-1-1, there is a larger issue of building comprehensive community emergency preparedness networks that have access to especially vulnerable, hard-to-reach populations.

In 2000, the FCC set aside 2-1-1 as the uniform number for comprehensive community information and referral services (I&Rs) throughout the United States, parallel to 9-1-1 for life-threatening emergencies. Dialing 2-1-1 links the caller to an organization that maintains a comprehensive database of government, nonprofit, and faith-based agencies in its defined area.

To date, 2-1-1 has been implemented by 81 systems in 22 states. 62 million Americans have access to 2-1-1 dialing now. By July, 2005, it is expected that most Americans will have 2-1-1 service. (For more information on 2-1-1 implementation, see http://www.211.org.) One immediate effect that has been noted is that wherever 2-1-1 has been implemented, there is a sharp drop in inappropriate calls to 9-1-1. 9-1-1 system operators, who had been leery of 2-1-1 in the beginning, now widely support it.

In New York, after 9/11, there were an estimated 400 toll-free numbers that provided some type of post-disaster information to the public. Some were existing numbers of organizations like the American Red Cross. Many were new numbers set up specifically for this incident, such as numbers for the many funds that were established to help victims' families.

For the people who were seeking to get or to give help the result of all these numbers was confusion and frustration. For some of the organizations the result was unseemly competition for public attention and dollars. It was also a situation ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous individuals.

Connecticut was also heavily impacted by the attacks because many of the people who work in lower Manhattan live in Connecticut. Because the United Way of Connecticut had implemented 2-1-1 dialing in 1998, the number was already well known as a source of reliable information. Although the Governor established a special number after 9/11, 866-CT-HELPS, and the media told people they could call either that special number or 2-1-1 to give or get help, it is estimated that 95% of these calls went to 2-1-1. Soon, calls to either number were handled by 2-1-1 staff.

2-1-1 worked cooperatively with other information lines rather than competing with them. Since it was impossible to get through to the Connecticut Red Cross office phone lines in the days immediately following 9/11, it was agreed that 2-1-1 would not make direct referrals to the Red Cross. Instead, the Red Cross provided 2-1-1 with information to share with callers. In effect, 2-1-1 served as an arm of the ARC.

Immediately following 9/11, 2-1-1 agreed with the State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to take referrals of the more serious cases involving victim's families. So it became a resource to that Department. Most importantly, the State EMA made sure that 2-1-1 had all the information about the event that people might otherwise have sought to obtain from 9-1-1.

The implications of this for emergency managers and the directors of the I&R agencies are clear. When 2-1-1 is implemented, people will call it for disaster information. This means the 2-1-1 service provider must have accurate and up-to-date information to give the public. This is too important to be left to chance. It has to be based on a developed relationship with EMA officials, established prior to the disaster, clearly defined, and exercised like all other parts of the emergency plan.

For their part, the I&Rs are prepared for this. Their national professional association has developed guidelines and training materials to help 2-1-1 services be effective partners with EMAs. (See http://www.airs.org/pub/pub_dis_211.asp.)

However, a problem with 2-1-1, as with all other disaster information systems, is that they do not reach some especially vulnerable populations including:

* people who don't access mainstream media perhaps because it isn't in their language

* people who avoid government agencies and personnel, such as undocumented residents, homeless people who are mentally ill, new immigrants from countries where the government is not trusted

* people who speak a language for which local government agency does not readily have interpreters (e.g., Quechua)

* people who may be overlooked in a first needs assessment, such as multiple families in one-family dwelling or people living in illegal conversions off the street.

The risks of not reaching these people include:

* Unnecessary loss of life and injury if services don't reach them;

* Diseases spreading from improvised camps to the rest of the community;

* Civil disorder if people feel neglected or cut off from help;

* Political pressure or even litigation brought to bear by advocates for these groups.

These people may avoid government but almost all of them are in contact with one or more human service or faith-based organizations. In Los Angeles, for example, Homeless Health Care Los Angeles has trusted access to hundreds of people on the street that government cannot reach. It is critically important that these agencies be brought into a comprehensive community preparedness network where they can be trained and prepared to receive and pass on timely, accurate disaster warnings and post-disaster information.

The local I&R that is or will be the 2-1-1 service, has these organizations in its database. The I&R knows what they do, who they serve, and how to reach them. Thus, the I&R becomes a logical core element of the network. Ideally, such a network includes the local affiliates of the national relief agencies (NVOAD members), CERT and/or the Volunteer Center that is implementing the local Citizen's Corps initiative, and these local nonprofit and faith-based organizations.

Most EMA directors have not traditionally thought of these local organizations as assets in their comprehensive plan, but they are. The EMA itself is usually an ex officio, non-voting member of the network, providing support, planning, and direction. One model for a community preparedness network is Emergency Network Los Angeles (ENLA), http://www.enla.org. Other information about community preparedness networks can be found on my web site http://www.emnetwork.us.

Like all advances in emergency management, working with 2-1-1 so that it becomes an integrated part of your emergency plan and the development of local preparedness networks of nonprofit and faith-based organizations means more work for EMA directors. However, it also means the acquisition of valuable new resources that they cannot afford to overlook.

That concludes this introductory overview, and I will turn the floor back over to Amy to start us off with your questions and comments.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Burt. Also, if you have experience with 2-1-1 and would like to share it with the group, we would like to hear your comments also. We are ready to begin now.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Betty Kukin: Regarding the inappropriate calls to 9-1-1, what about 3-1-1?

Burt Wallrich: 3-1-1 has only been implemented in a limited number of cities. I don't know that there is a body of experience to generalize from about the impact of 2-1-1 on 3-1-1 and vice-versa. In general, I think you can say that any call that might go to 3-1-1 could be handled, with perhaps one extra step, by 2-1-1, but the reverse is not true.


Jack Fox: Seems like the variety of X-1-1 services will confuse people. What is being done to address this?

Burt Wallrich: It doesn't seem to be that big a problem. NENA was very afraid of this, but as they have seen the impact of 2-1-1 on 9-1-1, they have become supporters. In California at least, all 2-1-1 literature carries the message that in an emergency call 9-1-1.


Patrick Kujawa: 2-1-1 could save resources, but wouldn't a comprehensive call-out system be more effective for disaster notification? It might answer some of the problems of those who are afraid to utilize the 2-1-1 system.

Burt Wallrich: I am not familiar with call-out systems. Is that where you have automatic calling of everyone in an area?

Patrick Kujawa: Yes. It would call an affected area only.

Burt Wallrich: Confidentiality is one of the big features of 2-1-1. People will call it that might not call 9-1-1 with its identification of the caller. I don't see it as one or the other. Both would be good. The call out system isn't really relevant to the range of questions and needs people might have following a disaster. You can't answer a wide range of queries with one canned message.


Erin Dunbar: Is there any literature on phone system emergency back up alternatives? I have heard battery backups do not last long.

Burt Wallrich: Marianne G., can you say something about that?

Marianne Galleon: Yes, battery back-up lasts for about 15 to 30 minutes. Ideally you would get additional back-up with a generator or other type of power that can last longer


Micki Thompson: Burt, what strategies would you recommend for 2-1-1 programs in connecting with local emergency management agencies, and as a FLAIRS Board member, what would you recommend we put in our state-wide 2-1-1 plan regarding emergency management?

Burt Wallrich: The 2-1-1 needs to find someone in the EMA that understands human service needs beyond first response. That is not as difficult now as it used to be. As for your state-wide plan, I think incorporating the disaster standards from the national 2-1-1 plan should suffice.

One more thing on working with your local EMA -- that is just what my new consulting practice is set up to help with. Contact me and we can talk [end of advertisement].


Craig Schmidle: You mentioned VOAD, 2-1-1, and EMA partnerships. Please give ideas, details and examples.

Burt Wallrich: Wow, that's pretty open ended. VOAD, of course, is the coalition of national relief agencies that has been around for several decades. Until recently, it was thought that the VOAD agencies had human service needs covered, but with changes in population patterns and big urban disasters, that was shown to be not the case. The local agencies are needed to reach the hardest-to-reach populations, like undocumented immigrants, homeless mentally ill, etc.


Karen Hyatt: How can we tie this back into national initiatives and 2-1-1? Is there something in the new legislation that will be affecting 2-1-1 and homeland security?

Burt Wallrich: The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 permitted spending funds on 2-1-1, although it did not mandate that. As 2-1-1 is implemented, it clearly has a role to play in a comprehensive information plan for any major disaster. Terrorism is the focus now, and the funding seems to have to be tied to it, but in fact, there is not that much difference between a major terrorist incident and a major natural disaster as far as information needs go.

Karen Hyatt: Has anyone had success tapping the funds? In Iowa, the funds are tied up and have been since day one through the department of public health.

Burt Wallrich:: I don't know if anyone has had success. The potential is there.

Georgia Sales: In response to Karen's question, Indiana has had very good success with obtaining bioterrorism funds through their state department of health. Talk to Lucinda Nord.

Susan Richards: In response to Karen's question also, Wisconsin has had very good success with obtaining bioterrorism funds through the State Department of Public Health. Contact Larry Olness, United Way, Dane County.


Rick Tobin: Hello, Burt. Has anyone investigated having the major carriers who use 4-1-1 for information to read a short message when they are used directing people to 9-1-1 for emergencies, or 2-1-1, or 3-1-1? I've heard from phone companies that lots of calls go to 4-1-1 in a big event when folks can't get 9-1-1.

Burt Wallrich: Hi, Rick. I don't know if there has been any work on that.


Bob Robinson: Hi Burt. Where do you see the private sector Emergency Management folks fitting into this; specifically, are any private sector groups such as Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRII) and the Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ) involved?

Burt Wallrich: I'm not sure, and I don't want to wing it on something I haven't thought about and talked to other people about. Can you contact me off-line with your thoughts, please?


Amy Sebring: Burt, what typically is the impact on the local I&R of implementing 2-1-1, in terms of staff, resources needed, etc.?

Burt Wallrich: Amy, in one sense 2-1-1 is just an existing information and referral service with a new number; however, the much greater visibility of 2-1-1 creates a need for new resources as you suggest. It also creates the opportunity for new funding from public and private sources. Different 2-1-1 systems report very different impacts of implementing the new dialing code, from almost no increase in calls to a doubling. It depends a lot on how much it is publicized. But any increase calls for an increase in staff and other resources.


Isabel McCurdy: Burt, will 2-1-1 Call Centres be staffed with volunteers?

Burt Wallrich: That is a decision for each center. Many information & referral agencies use volunteers; many do not. 2-1-1 doesn't change that. There is nothing in the 2-1-1 standards that requires or bans volunteers.


John Boyle: Have any 2-1-1 centers figured out the cell phone dilemma? They will be used by many people in a disaster situation.

Burt Wallrich: No, that's still an open question. I think that 2-1-1 national would like to see that settled in regard to 9-1-1 first, and then see how that pattern applies to 2-1-1.


Avagene Moore: Burt, I attended the NEMA Conference this week and heard a short presentation on the 2-1-1 Act of 2003. In the handout, under the use of funds, it states "to ensure consistency and quality of service, recipients of grants must abide by National Standards for 2-1-1 Centers ..." Is there a Web site referencing these standards and anything people may wish to read to be more knowledgeable about this effort?

Burt Wallrich: Yes, the AIRS website has those standards. http://www.airs.org.

Georgia Sales: Avagene and Burt, the 2-1-1 Standards have been integrated into the Standards for Professional Information and Referral published by AIRS. They are on the AIRS Website at the address just posted by Burt.


Amy Sebring: Burt, where is a good place to start to find your local I&R? United Way?

Burt Wallrich: The local United Way should be able to direct you to a local I&R. In many places, it operates the I&R. They can be hard to find in the phone directory since they are independent organizations and use different names. ‘First Call for Help’ and ‘Info Line’ are two common names.


Erin Dunbar: Earlier in the conversation, there was reference made to obtaining public and private funding - could anyone give examples of new funding sources (outside of Dept. of Health) they are receiving for 2-1-1?

Burt Wallrich: In California, both the state effort and specific I&Rs have had success getting foundation grants based on the needs for 2-1-1 implementation. Some of the United Ways are putting up money. But it must be recognized that this is an extraordinarily difficult funding climate right now.

Micki Thompson: In response to Erin, we have received funds from our local law enforcement agencies since we are not in United Way.


Avagene Moore: Just a comment. I picked up a nice United Way Public Policy Fact Sheet. For more info, the contact is Bridget Gavaghan, Director, Public Policy and Partners, [email protected] - may be a good contact for folks.

Amy Sebring: Yes, and if I may again mention the new legislation, which will no doubt require some active support.


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Burt. Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements:

If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

Again, the transcript will be posted later this afternoon and you will be able to access it from our home page.

We have two new Partners to announce: Bay Star Communications, Inc., http://www.baystar.com, with Timothy Minter, Director, Research & Development, serving as the Point of Contact, and James Lee Witt Associates, LLC , http://www.wittassociates.com, Jenny Holt, Client Executive as Point of Contact. If your organization is interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the Partnership link on our home page.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to mark the anniversary of September 11, by suggesting it is an appropriate time for all of us to reflect and rededicate ourselves to the important work we do in serving the public. We at the EIIP understand the challenges that you face, and value the important contribution made by all of you in the emergency management community.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Our session is adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Burt for a fine job.

Burt Wallrich: Thank you all for your interest and participation. And thanks to the experts who helped when I didn't have the answers.