Many localities nationwide have embraced the growing trend of establishing a 311 Center. While most of us are very familiar with the emergency line of 9-1-1, many are not as familiar with the non-emergency line of 3-1-1. This new line creates a way for citizens to reach their city for non-emergency concerns in the same manner they do for emergency calls—by dialing three digits. 311 centers provide a simplified way for citizens to communicate and interact with their local government.
Since its inception in March 2013, the Newport News 311 Center has offered an easy and convenient way for its citizens to contact the city by dialing 311 or 933-2311, if outside the city limits. Citizens can contact the center to obtain general city information about such topics as an upcoming city event or program, to report an issue such as a traffic signal outage or to submit a request for service for items such as an appliance pick up.
Over the past four and a half years, the center has taken more than 90,000 calls and handled more than 17,000 emails, web and mobile app requests combined, processing in excess of 35,000 service requests. Call taker Tiffany Clark says, “What makes me proud and gives me a rewarding experience is when I am able to resolve a citizen’s issue or concern. Nothing is more rewarding than hearing a citizen say ‘thank you’ for resolving the issue.”
The 311 Center has had a positive impact on the city and its citizens. “Residents have gained an advocate for them in the city that can help them with any question they have about the city,” says 311 manager DJ Russell. “They get a live person who can tell them when something will be done, give them a tracking number for follow up and do so in a friendly manner. We are open longer hours so we can address the needs residents have 11 hours a day rather than the typical eight hours.”
Call taker Michelle McCreary adds, “Every day we represent the city in a positive manner in how we handle the calls we receive.”
All 311 Center employees are also considered essential personnel, trained and ready to assist citizens when they may need it the most, such as during hurricanes or other emergency situations.
Plans are for the center to continue to expand its options for its citizens by taking on more departments, adding more services and additional ways for citizens to reach them. “We also want to look at what city employees would like for us to offer, since many city employees use our online or mobile requests now,” says Russell.
“I think 311 has changed hearts and minds. When we first started, I think both employees and residents may have been skeptical about what we could accomplish. But we now have champions who love what we do. We are here to make local government easier to interact with,” Russell says.
To reach the center while in Newport News, just dial 3-1-1 during business hours or 757-933-2311, if outside the city limits. The center can also be reached by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by submitting a request through the web at www.nnva.gov/311. The mobile app is also a great addition, allowing citizens even more options to contact the center and submit a request at any time. The mobile app is free and can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play Store. The 311 Center is currently open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It’s like a one-stop shop,” says 311 supervisor Nailah Sutton.