FEBRUARY 24, 1997
Emergency Center says 'no' to 311
from the King County 911 Program Office
The Federal Communications Commission has reserved 311 nationwide as an access code for non-emergency police and other government services. Although some local jurisdictions are investigating whether 311 would be beneficial within their area, King County Emergency Operations Center reported that it is not intending to implement a 311 system at this time.
Although our enhanced 911 system does receive many non-emergency or informational calls, the system is not overloaded. Citizens do not receive busy signals when calling 911, and their calls are answered quickly. In an effort to reduce the numbers of inappropriate calls to 911, continuous public education efforts are made by local police and fire agencies and the county to inform the public to only call 911 if a RESPONSE from police, fire, or emergency medical personnel is needed.
Citizens who call 911 when they need information or need to discuss a non-emergency situation unneccessarily tie up the 911 system and the call takers' time and make these resources less available to respond to true emergencies. The business numbers of the local police and fire departments have been published on the front inside cover of many of the telephone directories as an easy reference for people who do not have an emergency and need to access these services.
Occasionally, during peak times or when there are multiple emergencies, there are not enough available police resources to dispatch to all the calls for service, and delays in response may result. This is often perceived as being a "911 system problem," but this is really not the case. The process of the public dialing 911, and the call being answered, processed, and queued for dispatch routinely happens quickly and without delay. The establishment of a 311 system would not address the fundamental issue that there are times when there are not enough police resources to dispatch to all the calls for service.
King County has concerns that establishing additional codes would create confusion of which number to call in emergency situations. We still receive emergency calls on the old seven-digit emergency numbers used prior to 911. In a crisis situation, it is easy to become confused, and having both 311 and 911 available to access police services would increase the chance that an emergency call could be made to 311.
In addition, implementing a 311 system would be very costly. With the complexity of multiple police jurisdictions that exist in King County, establishing a 311 system would require an extensive telephone network similar to the 911 system. Also, it would be very costly to establish separate 311 call centers, so these calls would likely go into the existing 911 centers and be answered by the same call takers that answer the 911 calls.
There have been no funding mechanisms established to pay for a 311 system. Since citizens in King County already pay 35 cents per month to the county and 20 cents per month to the state on their landline telephone bills, and 25 cents per month to the county on their cellular telephone bills to fund the existing 911 system.
At this time, the 911 system is providing excellent service , and a 311 system is not being considered on a county-wide basis.