Roseville/Placer News

Placer County implementing 211 system for wildfire evacuations, community information

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Placer County is joining most of California’s other counties in offering residents a 211 online and telephone information system, the county’s board of supervisors announced Tuesday in a news release.

211, a 24/7 nationwide system, provides users with free connection to resources ranging from disaster aid to health and employment services. In 2018, 211 was available to 94.2 percent of the U.S. population, and its staff responded to 12.8 million requests for aid, according to Services exist in all 50 states and in 38 California counties.

Placer County was formerly the largest California county lacking 211 service.

“I think it’s evident that we need this system. Hopefully we can continue to work together with partners on this project,” said District 1 Supervisor Bonnie Gore. “It’s clear we need to move forward.”

211 implementation has been in discussion for five years, according to Public Information Specialist Katie Prichard. County staff will formalize contracts in the next few months and aims to implement 211 within the next year.

According to the release, 211 systems are invaluable in emergencies such as wildfires. The systems quickly disseminate information regarding evacuations, shelters, road closures and aid, eliminating the need to create and staff a separate call center and reducing the burden of 911. According to a phone interview with Health and Human Services Director Jeff Brown, San Diego County has one of the best organized 211 systems in the state, and effectively used the system to communicate to residents during wildfires.

“Having a 211 system better positions us for future disasters and will help us keep the public up-to-date and safe,” said Office of Emergency Services Assistant Director Holly Powers. “We are looking forward to having Placer residents join the millions of Americans served by 211.”

Brown said in the release that 211 also brings convenience to its users.

“Rather than having to spend time searching out and remembering phone numbers, residents will be able to simply dial 211 and have all sorts of resources at their fingertips,” Brown said. “It will be quick and much less hassle, where folks won’t be forced to navigate through a maze of programs.”

Beyond emergency aid, 211 provides users with a destination for referrals to community and health services, including child care, housing assistance, medical providers and senior services.

According to Prichard, in some regions near Tahoe National Forest, only 34 percent of households have internet connections, making telephone referral services essential.

The proposition for a new 211 system originated from discussions with local groups, law enforcement, and other community leaders. Vocal proponents for 211 include First 5 Placer, Placer People of Faith Together and Seniors First. First 5 Placer and the Placer County Office of Education have financially contributed to the proposal. The system will cost Placer County $250,000 annually after initial charges. The county has located $100,000, but continues to look for other financial partners, according to Prichard.

As of now, 10 California counties, including Amador, Lake, and Sierra, are developing 211 service.

Candice Wang, from Yale, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee interested in climate change, sustainability, socioeconomic inequality, and culture. She grew up in Connecticut.