Thought Leadership

When Disaster Strikes: Why 311 Contact Centers Need a Business Continuity Plan

 In situations where city residents find themselves in dire need of assistance or information, local authorities and agencies are their most valuable resources. Residents have come to trust and depend on certain public services when dealing with adversities. Such is the case with both 911 and 311 services. It is obvious how 911 services enable affected areas to prevent further destruction and expedite recovery processes. 311 services can also be of great assistance.  For this reason, not only is it imperative for 911 services to remain uninterrupted when disasters strike, either manmade or not. 311 services need to continue operations as well.

Created in the 1990s, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced the N11 codes series to allow local residents assistance with various critical issues. 911 became the most popular of those codes. But with the popularity came an abundant amount of calls, many of which didn’t require immediate assistance for life-threatening situations. The 311 number was then assigned for residents to call for non-emergency assistance from the local government. Baltimore, Maryland, was the first municipality to implement 311 telephone services in 1996. Ever since 311 contact centers have been a source of helpful information and direction for residents of the cities in which they operate.

As they connect residents to much-needed information without saturating 911 lines, 311 services can include evacuation routes, special instructions, shelter locations, help in locating loved ones, as well as traffic and public transportation updates. 311 services integrate multiple municipal agencies and coordinate their non-emergency responses. Due to these and other critical functions, it is important for 311 contact centers to have a business continuity plan at the ready in case of an unfortunate event.

It isn’t difficult to demonstrate the devastation that natural disasters can cause a city. From California wildfires and Hurricane Michael to Tropical Storm Lane and the eruption of Mount Kilauea, 311 contact centers have helped in preparation for disasters as well as during response and recovery efforts. In fact, many contact centers can have a similar role. A white paper published by DATAMARK provides examples of how businesses and their contact centers can prepare for when disasters strike.

Not all disasters are byproducts of Mother Nature’s fury. For instance, Baltimore utilized their 311 services in response to terrorist events, while Minneapolis used theirs to address issues with a major bridge collapse. Other cities have used theirs to monitor and respond to disease outbreaks as well as track cyberattacks, exemplifying the need for a business continuity plan.

   Imagine an extreme data breach of a city’s emergency response system. That exact situation happened to Baltimore in early 2018. Because Baltimore’s 911 and 311 systems can transition into a temporary manual mode, their operations went without disruption.  Such a minuscule proactive measure allowed the city to refrain from experiencing what could have been a great public disservice. To address similar risks, other preemptive measures can include implementing new technologies to withstand advanced hacking, staffing appropriately for in-bound interaction volume, and finding additional operating sites.

During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the City of El Paso’s 311 contact center, operated by DATAMARK, an El Paso-based contact center solutions provider, received hundreds of calls from individuals interested in helping with the recovery process.  El Paso 311 agents provided people with phone numbers and information of organizations in need of monetary donations and volunteers.

The need for human prosperity during a crisis serves as the best example of why business continuity plans are important for 311 contact centers. All 311 contact centers can benefit from implementing technological infrastructures that can sustain cyberattacks and breaches, creating a staffing formula to provide 24/7 services, and finding additional support from outside entities, taking a key example from El Paso 311 in Southeast Texas during Hurricane Harvey.

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