A City’s 48-Hour Push to Maintain 311 Service With At-Home Staff

City Hall in Buffalo, New York.

City Hall in Buffalo, New York. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The Buffalo, New York program highlights how the coronavirus has forced many state and local governments to quickly adopt new technology. Some officials see lasting value in the changes.

In under a week’s time earlier this year, Buffalo, New York reworked its 311 call center so operators could take calls from home after municipal employees stopped reporting to offices at City Hall because of coronavirus risks.

The changeover, which took place during the early days of the disease outbreak, is just one example of how states and localities have moved quickly in recent months to adopt new technology with public employees working from home and in-person services curtailed.

“Need brings about innovation,” said Oswaldo Mestre, Buffalo’s chief service officer and director of the city's division of citizen services. 

Mestre explained that avoiding disruptions to the call center was a priority for the city. He noted the system is important for citizens calling in with questions and concerns, and that it also provides the city with a window into issues emerging in different neighborhoods.

“We have a duty to make sure that we're listening to people and we’re following up,” he said. In his view, maintaining 311 service was a way to give residents a sense of normalcy as the virus outbreak unfolded and to let them know the city government was still operating.

In more usual times, people might call the city’s 311 line about issues like potholes, problem trees or broken streetlights. But the coronavirus contributed to a rise in calls as people sought information about other needs, like how to get tested for the virus, or how to go about accessing unemployment benefits. 

Before the virus, the city’s 311 call center typically received 600 to 700 calls per day. But during the past year, with the pandemic, along with protests and discord over police conduct and racial equity issues, daily calls soared for a time up to the 5,000 to 6,000 range.

These days the pace of calls is back down, hovering just under 1,000 a day, Mestre said. He described recent efforts the city has made to do outreach in neighborhoods that call 311 less than others to make people in those places aware that the service is available.

Buffalo has about a dozen employees working on its 311 program, including operators and other staff. They are for the most part still working remotely, even now.

Setting up a system so that they could work away from the office was a shift that happened in about two-days time, over a March weekend. Mestre said it involved him and others working long hours to ensure that when Monday morning arrived, calls could be answered.

“It was cold, it was snowing, we were meeting people in parking lots bringing equipment and phones,” he said. 

The city worked with Cisco on the project, but didn’t have all of the technology it needed to make the rapid shift. It found a workaround by partnering with the State University of New York at Buffalo, which did have the communications equipment necessary to reroute calls.

“They had the backbone, they had the system already configured,” Mestre said. “They allowed us to be a part of their architecture.”

While it was a scramble, Mestre said the city did successfully pull off the project. “On Monday, after staying up all night and literally doing training like a half an hour, an hour right before, when it came 8:30, the phones rang,” he added. “It was just something beautiful to hear.”

Mestre said he believes having the new system in place to allow for remote work will prove useful even after the virus passes. He mentioned other disaster or emergency situations, or even Buffalo’s winter snowstorms, as situations where it could come into play.

"Having this remote allows us to be better equipped,” he said. “We can kind of self-activate those call-takers at home or from a remote place and that’s an important thing.”

Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Small city of Baldwin, GA with <5K residents reduces info calls to City Hall by 50%
Baldwin, GA, USA
MN Water District and High School Collaborate on Stormwater and Education
Forest Lake, MN, USA
Asheville Parks & Rec Strategic Plan Boosts Staff Participation & Deepens Community Relationships
Asheville, NC, USA

NEXT STORY: Can Better Data Fix America’s Policing Crisis?

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.