There are three key reasons why a protocol between a municipality and 211 is important:
- Mutual notification information;
- Agreed upon activation procedures; and
- Ongoing two-way communication processes (i.e. municipalities sharing media releases and other information with 211 as the situation changes and directing the public to call 211 for non-emergency information).
Municipal Emergency Information Officers are the key providers of information, therefore having effective lines of communication between them and 211 are important. We understand that formal agreements bog down municipal staff, including those in legal departments, and what is really required is a straightforward communication protocol focused on notification, activation and communication.
211 and 311: Working Together
In several municipalities, dialing 3-1-1 or accessing 311 online connects you to city or government services. Typically, 311 directs complex social service inquiries to 211, enabling 311 to focus on key municipal service questions. The role of 211 and 311 may differ with each community, but it will always be complementary.
If you are interested in a meeting or presentation about how you can work with 211 in your emergency planning, contact the 211 Regional Service Partner that serves your municipality.
211’s Cross Border Exercise: Sarnia and Port Huron
In 2016, 211 Ontario participated in the Canada-United States Enhanced Resiliency Experiment, also known as CAUSE IV, which was supported by Canadian and American federal agencies.
Based on a tornado situation in Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan, CAUSE IV sought to improve cross-border collaboration and test new technologies. In this exercise, 211 Ontario and Michigan 211 collaborated to create mock call scenarios that 211 would likely receive during such a disaster, agreed to collect key demographic information such as the caller’s zip/postal code, and used common terminology to explain callers’ needs. 211 call data was then plotted on a situational awareness map that was utilized by municipal Emergency Operations Centres on both sides of the border. The CAUSE IV experiment demonstrated how 211 data could be easily shared, presented in a visual format, and utilized to support decisions made by emergency officials.
211 Ontario seeks to continually improve its ability to serve as a public inquiry line during times of disaster through internal capacity building, external partnership development and participation in emergency preparedness activities such as CAUSE IV.
Click here to watch a video about this exercise.
2015 Emergencies in Lambton County
In June 2015, an unusual incident happened on a golf course in Lambton Shores, Ontario. A pond began spouting up like a geyser and officials soon realized that this was causing the release of naturally occurring gases that could potentially be harmful to people in the area.
Nearby residents were evacuated for a short time while the matter was investigated and the golf course remained closed for a couple of weeks as the geyser subsided. However, the pond continued to bubble and release gases. Throughout this incident, Lambton County’s Community Emergency Management Coordinator kept 211 informed, and the public were encouraged to call 211 to get information and updates about the situation.
In November of that year, there was a significant fire at a large apartment building in the City of Sarnia that required all residents to be evacuated for over a week. Again, emergency officials contacted 211 and asked for assistance in answering calls from the public. In the first 24 hours of the incident, 211 handled over 170 calls from residents affected by the fire. Inquiries included where they should go if they did not have friends or family to stay with, whether or not their family members had been safely evacuated from the building, and when they would be permitted to return to their apartments.
The County of Lambton and City of Sarnia’s emergency officials have developed a strong relationship with 211 over the past few years in preparation for emergency situations such as these. When these events occurred, municipal officials received support from 211 and residents had a number they could call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get reliable and timely information during stressful times.
2013 Toronto Flash Flood
In the first 17 hours following the July 8, 2013 flash flood in Toronto, 682 people contacted 211 Central.
“The woman in the car in front had water up to her windows, it was awful, very frightening,” said one shaken driver caught unexpectedly in the one-in-100-year sudden storm that hit Toronto, stranding commuters and resulting in 300,000 residents without hydro. Most 211 calls that day were from people who had lost power and access to information from T.V., the internet or radio. Inquiries ranged from questions about the extent of the power outage and when hydro repair would be completed, to dealing with spoiled food, and how to navigate the city as Union Station was flooded and would remain so for days.
Thanks to 211, hundreds of Toronto residents received reassurance, direction and up-to-date information when they called 211.
Meaford Water Emergency
In the early morning of Monday July 22, 2013 a major break occurred in the main feeder line which supplies water to all residents in the urban area of Meaford, a population of about 11,000 residents in the County of Grey on the southern shore of Georgian Bay. Many residents were without water for the day. A drinking water distribution centre and portable toilets were set up. When residents were cleared to resume using water, there was a boil-water advisory for tap water.
The Town of Meaford immediately involved 211 Central East Ontario and advised residents to call 211 for information on their messaging system. On the 211 lines, Information Specialists provided the latest up-to-date information throughout the week to 277 people who called with related questions. Questions included how long to boil water, whether to bathe a baby or wash vegetables, if water would be delivered to seniors and whether to flush the toilet or use the dishwasher. Restaurants, hair salons, day care centres and other business owners called to ask about using water for customers.
2012 Thunder Bay Floods
In May of 2012, the 211 Regional Service Partner in Thunder Bay was contacted by the City of Thunder Bay’s Emergency Operations Group and told to be ready for calls.
As a result of flooding in the area, the city declared a state of emergency, and directed residents to 211 for reliable information. In addition to their existing database of resources, 211 drew on media releases from the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). However, it soon became clear that 211 staff needed to get the information earlier, so they began to attend the morning EOC meetings on a daily basis. This helped to confirm the detailed information needed by callers – for example The Red Cross – who were registering people who needed food, clothing, toiletries and a place to stay.
Very quickly, the EOC initiated the Safe Home Program, which helped families who had little or no insurance to clean sewage out of their homes, replace furnaces, rip out damaged drywall, and restore their homes. 211 was advertised as the number to call to access the Safe Home Program, and 211 staff passed caller information to designated contacts within the Thunder Bay Fire Department who then coordinated required services to individuals and families.
From floods to snowstorms, 211 is there, helping communities like Thunder Bay get back on its feet.
The Huron Challenge: Trillium Resolve 2012
In October 2012, 211 Ontario participated in The Huron Challenge: Trillium Resolve, an emergency exercise organized by Emergency Management Ontario (EMO).
This exercise involved dozens of organizations across four counties in central Ontario. It was a unique opportunity for 211 Regional Service Partners to collaborate and test their ability to respond to emergencies and to work together. The coordinated response was led by Community Connection, the 211 Regional Service Partner located in Collingwood serving the Central East region.
Trillium Resolve was a terrific learning opportunity for 211, its partners in EMO, municipalities, and other service organizations that respond during times of emergency. Drill scenarios were multi-layered, and included a radioactive fuel spill, road closures, multiple accidents and power outages.
211’s role during this exercise was to provide up-to-date and reliable information to the public in a well-prepared manner, in spite of a fast changing information environment. Critical decision making skills and information collection were also tested. Additional elements included: routing telecommunications systems to other regions, responding to mock disaster-related inquiries, communication protocols and activating a disaster database which consisted of information that is constantly updated with new related information.
Unlike a real emergency incident, an exercise such as Trillium Resolve does not have a prolonged recovery period. 211 providers know that after the fine work of emergency responders is completed during and following an incident, there are often weeks, or months of recovery for local residents and communities. During these times, 211 provides reassurance and continuous reliable information about available services through a long-term recovery period. Fortunately, 211’s call handling tools and disaster database is accessible to all six 211 service providers, which back each other up during an incident through a cloud-based portal.
For more information about Trillium Resolve, please watch Bruce Power’s video describing their role in the exercise here.