United Way 2-1-1 Ready to Respond Quickly if Hurricanes Strike This Year


With the 2012 hurricane season underway, United Way 2-1-1 is ready to respond quickly and effectively in the event that devastating storms sweep across Central Florida this year.

Much like 4-1-1 or 9-1-1, 2-1-1 is a free community information, referral and crisis helpline that links those in need with everything from rent and utility assistance to affordable housing and child care. Since the start of the economic crisis more than 3,000 people per week have been calling 2-1-1, but those numbers are likely to double or even triple if damaging storms head our way.

In order to be ready, 2-1-1 call specialists are reviewing emergency procedures and communication plans. And according to Larry Olness, United Way Vice President of Community Services, innovative technology also enables the 48-member staff to work remotely in the event that the call center becomes inaccessible. The goal, he said, is to provide effective, uninterrupted service 24-hours-per-day.  

Vital Link Before, During & After Deadly Storms 
In addition to providing critical information about evacuation routes, shelters and resources prior to a major storm, 2-1-1 also helps residents find assistance with food, water, debris removal, power restoration and other critical needs in the immediate aftermath.

During times of disaster, 2-1-1 also coordinates response efforts with Emergency Operations Centers in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, as well as local agencies that provide help with food, shelter and other essential services.   

In 2004 when three powerful hurricanes struck Central Florida within just a few weeks, 2-1-1 call volume exceeded 20,000, a number Olness expects to be higher the next time disaster strikes.

“At that time, 2-1-1 was relatively new and unknown,” he said. “Since then, community awareness of the program has grown, as has our capacity to respond. 2-1-1 is uniquely positioned to help residents not just in the short term, but for the duration of recovery efforts, which can often last for months and even years.”

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