A Perfect Storm? – Call or Text 211

 perfect storm

noun: a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors

20150901_191712 v2Many of us in the bc211 region experienced the might of the windstorm that swept through the South Coast on August 29th. BC Hydro estimates that 710,000 —nearly half of its customers in southwestern BC — lost power due to the storm. This represents “the single largest outage event” in the utility’s history.

In the thick of it, the BC Hydro website overloaded, crashing for the entire duration of the Saturday storm and into Monday morning. 911 was inundated with calls, prompting officials to issue reminders to call only in the event of an urgent emergency. Vancouver’s 311 help line reportedly received 1,800 storm-related calls over the weekend, including 675 about trees. This “perfect storm” resulted in reduced access to information, leaving residents frustrated and scrambling for resources during the power outage.

Some knowledgeable residents called 211 for help. bc211 provides information and referral to community resources. We’ve been around – albeit in different incarnations – since 1953, connecting people to local services, often to meet basic needs such as food and shelter. Today bc211 covers the regional districts of Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Sunshine Coast, and Squamish-Lillooet.

The storm impacted some of the most vulnerable people in our community, including seniors and the homeless. This was reflected in a 64% increase in calls to 211 on the storm weekend and early into the following week. Over 20% of these calls were directly attributable to concerns around the windstorm, touching on issues such as power outages, fallen trees, and food spoilage.

Trees down_20150829_131325Bob Prenovost, Executive Director of bc211, notes that, “Although we were much busier than we would be on a normal weekend, bc211’s website, phone lines and text messaging channels were fully operational at all times. We had trained staff available to help, while other public agencies, such as 911 and BC Hydro, were challenged to keep up with inquiries due to call volumes, capacity, and technology issues.”

211 services across North America can and do provide vital support to the public during major events and emergencies. 211 can take a significant load off of busy 911 operators. “We encourage the public to call or text 211 for all non-emergency inquiries,” Prenovost emphasizes. “We believe that, with better communication and co-ordination between public agencies, and support from the media here in the BC Lower Mainland, we could collectively be more effective in connecting people with the help they need.”

For more information on bc211, visit us at www.bc211.ca. If you’re seeking local resources, text the name of your community to 2-1-1 between 8 am and 11 pm, or dial 2-1-1 anytime of the day. You can also visit The Red Book Online, our online directory of resources, at redbookonline.bc211.ca.

Media contact:

Bob Prenovost
Executive Director