Orange County 311 a Calming Voice Before, During and After Hurricane Ian
When Hurricane Ian wrought havoc to much of the Florida peninsula, many Central Florida residents turned to Orange County 311 and its dedicated team of knowledgeable operators to alleviate their fears and provide them with the information needed to get through the storm safely.
311, a mobile app for Apple and Android users launched in 2003, was designed to assist Orange County residents in reporting local non-emergency community issues conveniently and efficiently by submitting reports regarding animals, traffic signs, potholes, graffiti, sidewalk repair, code enforcement, and many other common issues. With 911 often overloaded with non-emergency calls, 311 was created to relieve some of that volume.
Sometimes residents do not know who to contact, in which case 311 refer them to the division that can help. 311 is also available when County offices are closed, with operators fielding calls from Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. When a hurricane or other disaster threatens the region, operators are on call 24 hours a day based on Office of Emergency Management protocols.
During Hurricane Ian, 311 operators helped residents navigate many storm-related concerns, including wind damage but also severe flooding, which caught many people off guard. More than 70 operators, including trained volunteers, remained available at the Call Center at 2450 33rd Street in Orlando before, during and immediately following the storm.
“We took up the entire building and slept on cots and mattresses when our 12-hour shifts ended,” explained Ebony Dennis, Call Center Supervisor. “We prepare our staff to be ready for anything, and that training helped with Hurricane Ian.”
311 operators are prepared for pre-storm, during-storm and post-storm issues. Pre-storm calls typically include questions about solid waste, trimming trees, special needs and shelter transportation. During a storm, calls lessen because residents are riding it through, but this is followed by post-storm calls about debris pick up, power outages and, specifically with Hurricane Ian, flooding concerns.
“We’re provided with a lot of fluid information, and we disperse that information to residents as quickly as possible with the help of a database,” said Dennis. “With Ian, we received a lot of flooding calls, and some people needed to be rescued, but we immediately forwarded those calls to Fire and Rescue, and they handled those situations brilliantly.”
The calls can get emotional because people are stuck in their homes, and their mental states are understandably fragile. “We provided comfort to people who were dealing with flooding, and even if it wasn’t life-threatening, it certainly represented a serious situation,” asserted Dennis. “It was challenging, but we were able to get through it together.”
An invaluable community service, 311 helps residents even when the issue is outside the normal scope of its operations. During COVID-19, for example, 311 assisted people with getting financial assistance and making appointments to get tested and vaccinated.
“The best part of my job is being a comforting voice when someone is going through a stressful time,” said Dennis. “We want residents to know we’re here and have the resources to refer them to whomever can help. We’re the one-stop information center, and if we don’t have the answer right away, we’ll find it.”
For more information on 311 web chats, online requests, downloading the smartphone app or to schedule a speaker for your Homeowner’s Association or upcoming event, go to 311 Non-Emergency Help and Info.
Photo Caption: Customer Service employee at Orange County Government 311 responds to residents calls and inquires.