211 fields calls for help during disasters

211 Operators take callers and connect them with services. (KXAN Photo)
211 Operators take callers and connect them with services. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texas is no stranger to disasters. For more than a decade, the United Way’s 211 Navigation Center has helped Texans find the services they need before, during and after hurricanes, floods or wildfires.

211 Navigation Center Vice President Kay Garza says 211 is the go-to number when you don’t know who to call.

“Anyone can be in a place where they need help,” she explains. “Things can change quickly for families and a lot of times people don’t know where to go to get help.”

IN-DEPTH | Abbreviated dialing codes

  • 211: Urgent community and referral services
  • 311: Non-emergency police and governmentservices
  • 411: Directory Information
  • 511: Traffic Information
  • 611: Phone Repair for Landlines
  • 711: Hearing Impared Relay Service
  • 811: Underground Utility Location
  • 911: Emergency Services

The 211 Navigation Center, in East Austin, answers around 2,500 calls a day. The goal is to connect each caller with the services they need like food, clothing or shelter. During a disaster like the Halloween floods, the number of calls can double.

“We connected them with a lot of the local services that help with basic needs assistance,” Garza said. “For example, churches do a lot of work, Red Cross, Travis County.”

Garza says the center beefs up its staff with volunteers to handle disasters and can expand quickly if needed. She says as part of a statewide network that includes the Department of Emergency Management, they’re always ready.

“Since we’re one of the three centers in the state of Texas that responds 24/7, it’s something we’re doing year round,” said Garza.

In addition to disaster services, 211 provides information for utility and rent assistance. The center also fields calls for the transportation registry to help those who would not be able to evacuate on their own.

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