From hurricane help to health care questions – 2-1-1 is there

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 8, 2012

(BPT) – Wouldn’t it be great if there was a number you could call if you had any sort of question about resources in your community, from something as simple as where to find the nearest library to something as urgent as where you can find relief after a catastrophic event? Good news: You don’t have to wish for this all-in-one help line, as it already exists in vast majority of American communities. It’s as simple as three numbers: 2-1-1.

While the Eastern Seaboard recovers from Hurricane Sandy, 2-1-1 operators have been standing by to direct the storm’s victims to the resources they need, and inform volunteers how and where they can help. While calling 9-1-1 will get you help when you are in immediate danger, 2-1-1 can point you in the right direction for less pressing, yet equally important, needs. And when emergency personnel are operating at peak capacity during major emergencies like Hurricane Sandy, 2-1-1 becomes a valuable resource for those seeking aid.

“We are truly the only ones open 24/7, willing and able to be the live voice of comfort as the government is too busy with rescue and emergency operations,” says Naomi Adler, CEO of United Way of Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York, which operates a 2-1-1 call center.

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If you haven’t heard of 2-1-1, it may be because it’s a relatively new creation. Established by the Federal Communications Commission in 2000 as the go-to number for information about and referral to health and human and community services, 2-1-1 services have grown quickly and are now available in 90 percent of the United States.

From the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to today, 2-1-1 has played a crucial role in responding to every man-made or natural disaster in the U.S. During major disasters, information and referral specialists from 240 2-1-1 call centers from throughout the country can be called into action to help in the affected area, but the service is there to help people at all times, not just during disasters.

Operated by the United Way in partnership with other nonprofit and government entities, 2-1-1 can help with any area related to health and community information. In fact, disaster services accounted for only a small portion of 2-1-1 calls in 2011. Here were the 10 most common subjects of 2-1-1 calls that year:

* Housing and utilities

* Food and meals

* General information services

* Legal, consumer and public safety

* Individual, family and community support

* Income support and assistance

* Mental health and addictions

* Health care

* Clothing, personal and household

* Other government and economic services

Whether you want to find a community organization to volunteer with or have a question about how the new health care laws affect you, 2-1-1 can help. To find out what type of services are available in your area, visit or simply dial the number. Whether it’s helping you cope during an emergency or simply providing a helpful bit of information when you need it, 2-1-1 exists to get you the answers you’re looking for.