Homeland Security and Public Safety

Integrating 311 and 911 Calls Streamlines Operations

The ability for citizens in Dyersburg, Tenn., to dial one number for everything simplifies their interaction with the city,

The technology behind a good call center experience can bolster the public’s opinion of city government, says Mark Grant, 911 communications manager of Dyersburg, Tenn. Grant says efficient call-taking procedures allow his staff to handle incoming calls more easily and accurately. 

Dyersburg’s call center fields customer calls in an integrated 311 and 911 environment, where both emergency and non-emergency calls are answered by the same operators. Different ring tones let operators quickly sort emergency calls from less urgent requests. 

The ability for citizens to dial one number for everything simplifies their interaction with the city, and the ability for call takers to easily prioritize calls makes the process less stressful for both parties.

“You don’t have to worry about flipping through a phone book. You can dial 311 and it doesn’t matter if it’s a non-emergency request for police or fire, or if it’s an emergency request or if your stop sign [is] missing,” Grant said. “We can process that call for you.”

The city of more than 17,000 implemented the system in 2010, and the operators have noticed benefits since then. According to Grant, there has been a decrease in the number of non-emergency calls coming through 911, even during disasters. At the same time, 311 calls have increased, but stress levels have remained low because operators can manage calls more easily, even when the volume is high.

Today, operators in the city’s 12-person call center answer 99 percent of non-emergency calls in less than 20 seconds and emergency calls in less than 10 seconds, according to Grant. In 2012, they processed more than 123,700 calls. 

Inside the System

Dyersburg advertises 311 as the number for citizens to dial to reach police, fire and other government agencies for non-emergency issues. When a citizen dials 311, that call is routed to the same operators who answer 911 calls. Staff members can tell the difference between each call based on their ring tone — 311 has a softer ring than 911. And from an operational standpoint, a call taker will put a non-emergency call on hold if he or she receives an emergency call during an answering session. 

Operators use CRM software to log and track non-emergency calls and the information associated with them. The operator can type notes about the call directly into the system while on the phone, essentially creating reports that are the basis for tracking and resolving the citizen’s issue over time.

The online reports also increase accountability and data intelligence within Dyersburg’s community and the administration. The operator can create a ticket for the issue, which is crucial to report tracking and future communication regarding the issue in question. 

“You get a ticket number assigned to your complaint, and that’s emailed back to you in a verification,” Grant said. “We have the ability to track all of the complaints by GIS mapping.”

The CRM software’s user interface lets an operator create geocoded reports for future reference. He or she clicks a “where” tab on the computer screen, and the program zooms in on an interactive map containing GIS layers. The operator moves a digital pin dot onto a spot on the map to mark the location of the caller’s incident and saves the interaction. This generates a trouble ticket that’s automatically sent to the city department responsible for fixing the problem. 

“It’s real time, and it starts a clock. If that trouble ticket isn’t closed in four hours, then it starts to re-email people,” said Keith LeBeau, CEO of QScend, which makes the QAlert CRM software used by Dyersburg. “There are all kinds of service requests — barking dogs, road kill, broken trees, trees on wires, missing stop signs — the product has an extensive knowledge base.”

Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Emergency Management magazine.