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Help referral line gets three-digit phone number


Staff Writer

Last update: February 02, 2005

DAYTONA BEACH -- People seeking everything from food to counseling will only have to dial three numbers to get help.

A new phone system will start Feb. 11 to dial 211 to reach operators 24 hours a day providing referrals to 413 local agencies. The system is operated by First Call For Help, part of the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties.

People previously had to dial a 10-digit toll-free or six-digit local number.

"It's going to give everyone an easy-to-remember number," said Tim Sylvia, director of First Call For Help. "We don't want anyone to not get help because they don't know where to look."

The new system is not expected to work for cell phones until later this year.

Emergency management officials are hoping the new 211 will help prevent people from calling 911.

About 90 percent of calls into 911 are non-emergencies, according to Debbie Smith, communications manager for the Volusia County emergency communication center. Smith said people call to ask for the time of day, a restaurant location or even to say they have stubbed their toe and need an ambulance.

"People dial 911 on a daily basis for off-the-wall things," said Jim Ryan, director of emergency management for Volusia County. "They almost use it as an information number. It is grossly misused."

The United Way and area agencies have been working for four years to put the $25,000 system in place. The system is being paid for by the Volusia County Health Department, the county's Emergency Management Office and the county's Community Services Division.

Statewide, 36 counties already have the system in place.

The First Call For Help Center has six employees answering about 90 calls a day on its old phone system providing referrals for everything from financial assistance to shelter. The new system is expected to see a 40 percent increase in calls.

Sylvia said they expect to expand the center and add a few more employees by the fall. Operators with other 211 agencies in Jacksonville or Orlando will pick up calls after hours and make local referrals.

The expanded local center will be named after Ned Newell, a volunteer who died in September and was instrumental in getting the 211 system put in place.

Sylvia said there may be some areas where 211 may not be working by Feb. 11 because phone companies have not completed programming their computers.

People are asked to call (386) 253-0563, the current First Call For Help number, if they have difficulties.

deborah.circelli@news-jrnl.com


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