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City’s 311 call service cuts hours, 11 positions

Center will handle emergencies only during overnight hours
By Liz F. Kay | liz.kay@baltsun.com

Starting April 10, Baltimore’s 311 Call Center will take only urgent requests for service between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., city officials announced Thursday morning.

Urgent requests such as animal control, water service interruptions, water main breaks, overflowing sewers or flooding basements, traffic signal outages or debris in roadways will be directly routed through a simple telephone tree to radio dispatchers for appropriate departments, such as Public Works or Transportation.

“We are still available for customers,” said Lisa Allen, call center manager.

Shrinking the hours cuts $500,000 and eliminates 11 positions, but no one is expected to lose their jobs. The operators currently working that shift are expected to transfer to other openings.

Operators log about 1.1 million calls annually, but only about 52,000 — under 5 percent — come in during the overnight hours. As a result, each call costs about $10. And of those, only 1,900 were urgent requests, according to the city.

“Every call we get is not an emergency call,” said Michael Barocca, the city’s interim chief information officer. About 40 to 45 percent of calls result in service requests, he said, and the rest are calls for information, such as professional sports schedules and locations of city offices.

“They look at this as the city’s information bank,” Barocca said.

An additional 30,000 requests are submitted online yearly at https://baltimore.customerservicerequest.org/, and residents can continue to submit online requests 24 hours a day even after the call center’s hours change. People can also reach 311 online by going to www.baltimorecity.gov and clicking “311 online” in the left-hand rail. Urgent matters can also be entered online, Allen said. People can enter confirmation numbers there to check the status of a request.

But Barocca cautioned that even urgent matters will be triaged because the city only has limited staff overnight that can respond to emergency matters, and “it doesn’t necessarily mean a customer will get instant gratification,” he said.

Urgent problems that come in overnight will also be assigned a tracking number that officials can use to manage its customer service and performance, said city spokesman Ian Brennan.

baltimoresun.com

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