Why Thunder Bay Should Adopt A Centralized 311 System



Introduction


In a report by the City of Toronto, 311 has been found to provide service "better" than any other call center because it interacts with an integrated system. The report also found that in 2005, when 311 was established in Toronto, it decreased the number of hours staff spent on each call about municipal services from 16 minutes to 8.


This post will examine reasons why Thunder Bay should adopt a centralized 311 system. It will also cover what the benefits of doing so would be, as well as any issues or concerns that might come up.


What is a 311 centralized system?


311 is a three-digit telephone number that can be used across North America for residents to report non-emergency municipal issues.


This system is designed to provide an efficient way for municipalities to connect with their citizens, by eliminating the need for residents to contact different departments of the municipality individually.


How does a 311 centralized system work?


A centralized system connects citizens with multiple departments of the city via a single phone number. That number is - 311.


Efficient call-taking and management focus on informing citizens of municipal services, reducing response times, and enabling better information sharing among government agencies. It also ensures that service requests are coming from the right department.


Thunder Bay's Current System to Report a Problem


To report a problem with the city, you either have to visit their website, call a phone 24-hour number, or fill out a form. Note some of the following issues:

  • some issues are not available 24 hours

  • each time you fill out a form online, you have to fill out your name, email, and phone number each time. There is no way to create a user account and thus no way to track issues by resident, data, data analysis, and decision making. A 311 system is more efficient because you only have to input information once, and all information is saved for future use. This way, you can call back and the representative can easily access your data.

  • it is great there are required form fields that are tracked into a database and can be used for data analysis and decision making.

  • great that information collected is protected by privacy laws

  • the only way to report a problem 24 hours a day is to call Infrastructure and Operations at 807-625-2195 for issues like Water quality concerns, Tree problems, Street light outage, Snow clearing concerns, Sidewalk concerns, Sewer issues, Road sign damage, Pothole, Park concern, Graffiti, Garbage or recycling concern, Litter. For these issues, one can fill out a form as well.

  • Licensing and Enforcement Division one can call 807-625-2710 for many different issues as well but it is not operated 24 hours a day.

  • not centralized - different numbers for different issues by different departments

What is the problem with the current system?


One of the issues with the current system is that there is no centralized control over the collection of citizens' requests. This means that many departments are not responsible for loss or theft, or even dog licensing or parking regulations and as staff numbers change from time to time, new staff needs to be trained on these policies and procedures.


With a centralized system, staff could be trained on centralized systems so they can answer questions for multiple areas of responsibility without needing to refer residents to other departments.


Simplifying communication with residents is important because we are seeing more than ever how people are turning to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and search engines like Google for service requests.


What are the benefits of a 311 system?


What does the city have to say about this?


Centralized 311 systems offer benefits such as a smaller response time for inquiries made by citizens and an improved ability to assist first responders with responding promptly throughout the system which will ultimately reduce dispatch times and prevent callbacks.


If Thunder Bay adopted 311, what would change?


Adopting a 311 centralized system would lead to reduced wait times and more efficient service delivery. It could also lead to reduced call volume on 911 calls. This will, in turn, allow emergency dispatchers and first responders more time and resources they need when responding to emergencies like violent crimes or fires. According to Rocksolid Technologies, a provider of a 311 mobile app to 18 million citizens:

With an increasing non-emergency workload building up for 911 dispatchers, this is making it more difficult for local authorities and paramedics to remain available for true emergencies. An estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the U.S. each year. In most areas, around 40 percent of calls that make their way to police dispatchers do not qualify as an actual emergency. These are calls like graffiti reports, trash on a neighbor's lawn, a fallen stop sign, etc. These types of calls clog up the 911 system and make it difficult for authorities to respond to real emergencies.

Moreover, according to Norm Gale, City Manager of Thunder Bay, the costs for police, fire, and paramedics is "unsustainable". He said that according to Tbnewswatch.com:

There are a lot of people who need help [that is] not best delivered by emergency responders, yet because of our systems today, often emergency responders are called upon.

What this all means is that, even if the victim has a minor injury, or does not require a paramedic response, it requires the 911 system to be used and crowds out other important emergencies.


Would Thunder Bay save money by adopting a 311 system?


There is no doubt that the first two years of implementation would be costly. However, by focusing on encouraging efficient use of the 311 system, we can ensure that operational costs are reduced in later years.


There are also opportunities to save money through applications such as identification cards or smart card technology.


Another reason why the city of Thunder Bay should consider getting rid of its current system and adopting a centralized 311 system is that it will save money in the long term. It will also help the city to make better use of the money that they would have otherwise spent on their current system.


There is no doubt that Thunder Bay has several cost-saving opportunities through the use of a 311 system. It can streamline communication between the city council and residents to provide programs for all residents, not just those in specific areas.


Better Public Relations for Thunder Bay


A centralized 311 system can help improve public relations for the city. Residents need to be able to make their concerns known to their government so that problems can be solved quickly. This can also allow residents to see how their issues are solved, as opposed to having a stressful phone call with an employee from another department on the other line asking why they're calling in.


Helps Governance Officials


In addition to being more efficient for staff and customers alike, a centralized 311 system helps governance officials because they can use a single database for all agencies that have requested access. This is advantageous since many agencies share the same customer base and would require different databases if not for a centralized 311 service. It also makes for a more efficient system overall because data can be shared across the entire city government.


Interactivity with other agencies


Another reason that centralized 311 systems are beneficial is that they're open to more interactivity with other agencies, as well as with customers. A centralized 311 call center also gives customers a single point of contact for all agencies under it and helps to improve public relations by providing a better understanding of how customer service works in government.


How large should a city be to adopt a 311 system?


The city of Thunder Bay should be large enough to adopt a 311 system. why? A city the size of Thunder Bay should be large enough to adopt a 311 system because it would save money and make decisions easier. What exactly is meant by this?

It is widely accepted that a 311 system can help a city achieve its goals in several areas, as it will allow for more transparency in government services and it could also assist in improving the efficiency of these services. It will also make a city more inclusive, as it will benefit all citizens and better their way of life.


What are some example cities that have a 311 system?

St. John’s (the same size demographics and land size as Thunder Bay) has a 311 system, which is an easy way for them to report issues that concern the city. They utilize RockSolid Technologies.


The technology of St. John's 311 system accomplishes the following:

311 St. John's is your on-the-go way to connect with the city. Report and track issues, concerns or compliments of city services using location based technology with the option to include a photo or video. Issues that require immediate attention should be reported by calling 311 or 709-754-CITY (2489).

The data collection obtained from a 311 system?


A 311 system must be well structured. The city should maintain complete and accurate data, whether it's a list of all the departments that are involved in the service requests or previous service requests made. A database should be maintained with accurate information about the city and it should be accessible to everyone in the city. The data created during the process of responding to service requests are used to make improvements and repairs to services, as well as to plan future projects. A centralized system for Thunder Bay would also allow for more efficient data sharing, which can improve an organization's overall efficiency. In some cases, organizations might even be able to avoid the purchase of separate software by utilizing a central database.


How much does a 311 system cost?


The biggest concern regarding the adoption of a centralized 311 system is how much it will cost taxpayers. However, many ways head off these costs from occurring. Thunder Bay can continue to maintain its current system, which was built in the past decade.


In comparison to other systems, Thunder Bay would have to spend more money on a centralized 311 system than other cities because of the maintenance costs of their current system.


The issue is extremely complex, however. Cities have different needs, and some have small systems while others are quite complex. Other cities have almost no cost to maintain the system at all and charge a one-time set-up fee to use the system for one year. However, the city that has the most developed 311 system in Canada is Ottawa. Ottawa claims to have spent more than $4 million for the implementation of 311 and has recurring annual costs for operating and maintaining the system. There is no doubt that Thunder Bay would have to probably invest a significant amount of money into a 311 system.


What is the cost of not having something like a 311?


The cost of not having something like this could be high. This is because the city may need to take a more reactive approach to issues that residents are reporting. This could result in increased response time and a greater cost on the part of the city.


Difference between 211 and 311


There is no doubt that Thunder Bay should adopt a centralized 311 system. 311 systems are better than 211 systems because they can be easily accessed online or over the phone, as well as by texting. 211 systems have limited access time and many only offer service during certain hours of the day. Some also have difficulties in providing specific information or find it hard to answer questions when dealing with complex problems.

Apart from that, Thunder Bay is currently using a 211 system to report its issues. The difference between the two is that 311 focuses on general services and questions while 211 focuses on health and human services needs.


Conclusion


Many cities have adopted a 311 system and have experienced very positive results. Thunder Bay must act fast to adopt this useful service to improve its public services. The public will be able to use the services when they have problems and it will hopefully provide a better means of communication between the community and the city itself.


The city of Thunder Bay has the potential to benefit from a 311 system’s wide range of benefits, which is why they should seriously consider implementing it in their city. Emergency response costs are unsustainable and a 311 system would help burden the cost of skyrocketing fire, emergency, and policing costs.


Many people use 311 systems to report issues such as garbage and recycling on their way home. This is a very effective way to get the attention of city officials because they will know where to direct their resources. When cities install 311 systems residents are more likely to feel that they have a voice in the city.


Overall, this post has discussed many different aspects of a centralized 311 system including how it would benefit citizens and the city as well as what could go wrong with it. I firmly believe that Thunder Bay would be able to adopt a centralized 311 system at minimal cost and with few concerns in mind. As a citizen of Thunder Bay, I have the opportunity to choose what kind of city I live in. By adopting the centralized 311 models sooner rather than later, the city can avoid unnecessary delays in services that could affect our way of life. There is no doubt that Thunder Bay should adopt a centralized 311 system.


Let me know what you think in the comments. Post gets updated over time with new info and feedback.





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