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2-1-1 Keeps People Connected With Key Services

Tracy Lang Wood Click to view larger
Tracy Lang Wood

2-1-1 Santa Barbara County is a free and confidential service that connects people to vital health and human services 24/7. The program’s mission came into focus during the recent disasters in Santa Barbara County when the call center was inundated with requests for assistance related to the fire and flood.

2-1-1 Santa Barbara County, a service of the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County (CAC), experienced a marked increase in inquiries during the Thomas Fire and again during the Montecito flood and debris flow incident.

According to CAC’s Tracy Lang Wood, there were 5,220 calls and texts in December and 7,474 calls and texts in January compared to an average number of 500 inquiries per month prior to the natural disasters. From Jan. 7-13, the number of 2-1-1 calls alone averaged 300 per day.

Examples of the recent disaster-related requests to 2-1-1 Santa Barbara County:

Who do I call when and if I need to evacuate 100 people from a shelter?
I just received an alert on my phone; what does it mean?
I don’t have Internet or a smart phone; how will I know if I have to evacuate?
I can’t drive; what if I have to evacuate? Am I in the evacuation area?
I’m a doctor and can’t get to work. I work at a public clinic and they may need my help.
I just lost connection with my elderly mom, and she needs help.
What is the water boil notice? What are the locations for drinking water in Summerland?
I have no running water or gas.
I have not heard from my friend.

The 2-1-1 program works with the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency (among other local organizations and agencies) to gather, update and house resources and contact information that is then used by accredited call center specialists in their response to calls, texts and emails from the public.

Each inquiry is handled individually, by a trained specialist, who responds to the distressed caller in a thoughtful, personalized manner. 2-1-1 is not just a database or directory, as callers don’t always know the exact name of local services available, or even exactly what service they need.

“For quality assurance, we follow-up with a portion of the callers, making sure they got connected and their needs met,” said Lang Wood.

“Our 2-1-1 staff is specially trained to refer disaster and crisis calls to appropriate resources including evacuation shelters and specialty transportation, or 911 rescue services in life-threatening cases," said Elisa Pardo, 2-1-1 Santa Barbara County program manager.

"We want the public to know about and make use of this valuable community service but we also want them to know that in a life-threatening emergency, always dial 911 first,” Pardo said.

2-1-1 is the hub for all the low-cost and no-cost health and human services available in Santa Barbara County. In addition to disaster support, there are resources for mental health/addiction, housing, legal consumer and public safety, health care, food/meals, transportation, and employment.

» The helpline is multilingual (150 languages), confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at no cost to the caller.

» There are some 2,719 agencies, programs and services in the 2-1-1 Santa Barbara County database.

» 32 percent of calls (non-disaster) are from Santa Maria residents, 31 percent are from Santa Barbara residents, 13 percent from Lompoc, 6 percent from Goleta.

» 44 percent of calls (non-disaster) are from callers between the ages of 30-54; 36 percent are over age 55. Of these callers, 96 percent have low to very low income.

» The Federal Communication Commission first enacted authority for the operation of 2-1-1 information and referral services in 2000.

» 2-1-1 Santa Barbara County was implemented in 2005 and as of November 2014, is a program of the CAC.

“Our staff worked around the clock during the recent disasters — connecting people to resources and helping them get answers and direct aid. Our program helped fill the gap when the emergency response systems were unexpectedly overloaded,” said said Patricia Keelean, executive director of CAC.

“We’d especially like to recognize Santa Barbara County, the city of Santa Barbara, the city of Carpinteria, First Five, and the Hutton Parker Foundation for funding 2-1-1 Santa Barbara County," she said.

"Whether the county is in disaster mode or not, we are always here for the community for any of their health and human service needs,” she said.

For more about CAC, visit www.cacsb.com.

— Sheri Mobley for Community Action Commission.


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