2-1-1 to be launched for Rutherford County in March

Universal number, calls for hope and assistance
Dec. 01, 2012 @ 05:05 AM

The universal telephone number to call for assistance in finding valuable resources — "2-1-1" — is expected to be launched in Rutherford County in March 2013.

Rutherford County will be a part of the United Way of Asheville/Buncombe County Call Center for 2-1-1 and according to officials helping to launch the new system, it will take until March to get all the steps and infrastructure in place to begin the service.

United Way’s 2-1-1 of WNC already links people to health and human services in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, McDowell and Transylvania counties. Rutherford will be its sixth county in the western part of the state.

2-1-1 is already available in about 80 percent of the North Carolina's population as there is a second call center in Durham, serving the eastern part of the state. 

2-1-1 will be a free service, confidential and will be available 24/7 to speakers of all languages. Callers will be able to receive help from trained referral specialists who will identify the right resources for the caller.

United Way of Rutherford County is the lead agency in helping bring the 24/7 calling service to the county next spring and funding is being provided by United Way of Rutherford County, Isothermal Planning Development Commission, Rutherford County, The Department of Social Services and The Rutherford, Polk and McDowell Health District. 

Rachael Nygaard, director of the call center in Asheville met with county leaders and nonprofit agency leaders Tuesday to discuss the process of bringing Rutherford on board. 

Among those attending were John Carroll, Jimmy Hines, Laura Lynch, Diane Warner, Suzanne Porter, Carolyn Hardin, Tammy Aldridge Bill Robertson, Marsha Baker and United Way Director Faye Hassell.

Aldridge, the 911 director for Rutherford, expressed her concern callers might get 2-1-1 and 9-1-1 confused and make the wrong calls, delaying time for emergency responders to get to an emergency situation.

Nygaard said in developing marketing materials, measures will be taken not to confuse the numbers and eventually, 2-1-1 could be referred to as number for callers looking for "hope" through the agencies.

"This is not a crisis line, although they will be available, but 2-1-1 is a starting point when you do not know where to start," Hassell said.

A call to 2-1-1 could be transfered to 911 if the caller, after evaluation, learns the situation is an escalated call it can be transferred to 911.

Nygaard said 72 programs/agencies have already been identified to be included in the system, but there are many more to be included.

Billboards, newspaper advertising, radio spots, and mail-outs will be developed to inform every Rutherford County resident of 2-1-1 before it is ready to launch in March. 

The cost of the service is based on the population of the county, rather than the number of calls, Hassell explained.

If cost was based on the number of calls, "it could be fairly expensive, so it's better to do this based on population and you pretty much have fixed cost," she said.  

When a person calls the number, he or she will be able to find whatever service the person needs. Unlike 911, the emergency number to call for help, 2-1-1, will direct the caller to a number of human service needs; to housing, food, shelter, legal needs and dozens of other areas to offer human service.

2-1-1 is similar to United way's former, "First Call for Help" where the caller could receive information for daily needs, that were no-emergency calls.

"Lots of times when we had First Call for Help, the caller simply didn't know where to go for help," Hassell said.

"The success of 2-1-1 for Rutherford County is going to be to provide as much of a comprehensive listing of services that are available in the county," Hassell said.

"Another good feature is the call center will have the ability to look beyond Rutherford County if that persons needs a service not available in Rutherford County, services outside the county could be recommended."

Hassell said the committee has been working on the project for several months and will continue until the system is launched next spring.

What is 2-1-1?

2-1-1 is an easy to remember, three-digit telephone number that connects people with important community services to meet everyday needs and the immediate needs of people in crisis. 

There are about 30,000 nonprofits in North Carolina. Finding the one you need can be difficult. The first step in finding help is knowing who to call.  9-1-1 is for emergencies, 4-1-1 is for directory assistance and 2-1-1 is for finding community health and human service resources.

How is United Way involved with 2-1-1?

United Ways have a long-standing commitment to funding information and referral (I&R) services in their communities. A 2-1-1 task force submitted an application to the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission for designation of the three-digit number to be used for health and human service information, referral, and volunteer opportunities.  The Commission designated United Way of North Carolina as the “holder” of the 2-1-1 number on Nov. 18, 1999. In 2000, United Way of America was designated as the national holder of the 2-1-1 number. 

How does 2-1-1 work?

Callers simply dial 2-1-1 for information on vital local services. 2-1-1 is free, confidential, available 24 hours a day — every day, multilingual and staffed by agents ready to help you find the connection you need.