As the residents of Flint, Mich., responded to the growing crisis of their contaminated water supply, researchers at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis were able to pinpoint their calls for aid to the 2-1-1 telephone helpline through a unique website called 2-1-1 Counts.
“Although it’s only been in the last few weeks that the Flint water crisis emerged on the national scene, 2-1-1 Counts shows that calls about water problems in Flint were coming into the 2-1-1 as early as October 2015,” said Matt Kreuter, the Eugene S. and Constance Kahn Family Professor at the Brown School and senior scientist at the university’s Health Communication Research Laboratory, which developed 2-1-1 Counts.
Michigan’s helpline, an independent subsidiary of the Michigan Association of United Ways, is celebrating National 2-1-1 on Feb. 11, as are similar 2-1-1 helplines throughout the United States.
Each year, more than 16 million people in the U.S. dial 2-1-1 for help not only with emergency services requests, but also with basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing.
2-1-1 Counts is the first tool to provide real-time, searchable and visual presentations of data from 2-1-1 call centers across the nation.
Data can be searched and displayed by date, county, congressional district and more.
“When you visit the 2-1-1 Counts website, you can see community-specific needs updated daily and displayed by ZIP code, region or call center, enabling you to easily identify priority needs and neighborhoods, check trends, make comparisons and share information,” Kreuter said.
Currently, Kreuter and his team are compiling and analyzing 2-1-1 call data from more than 30 helplines serving 12 states, and hope to expand to all 50 states in the near future.
“The 2-1-1 Counts site provides a one-of-a-kind data-based snapshot of the daily needs of vulnerable families in America,” Kreuter said. “By organizing and sharing these data, we are able to help philanthropic organizations, service providers, municipalities, and elected officials provide pinpoint response to the needs of their community.”
This week, 2-1-1 Counts created a new “Flint water crisis” subcategory under “Disasters” to allow track of calls for help with water. By Feb. 8, that number had climbed to 9,400.
“Eventually, we hope to create an aggregate, national dashboard of 2-1-1 call data, which will provide a truly comprehensive picture of poverty in America,” Kreuter said.