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City launches 311 info service

Evanston launched the new 311 non-emergency call center today that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz hopes will improve the city's response to citizen requests while helping trim the cost of its operations.

Evanston launched the new 311 non-emergency call center today that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz hopes will improve the city's response to citizen requests while helping trim the cost of its operations.

Bobkiewicz at an afternoon news conference announcing the launch of the 311 service.

Eight hours into its first day the call center operators, housed in a former conference room at police headquarters, had already fielded more than 200 calls.

Joe McRae, the assistant to the city manager who headed the team developing the new operation, said similar call centers in other towns typically get 1.5 calls a year per 1,000 residents, but that he anticipates call volume may be somewhat higher than that in Evanston. "So we may get 150,000 calls in the first year," McRae said.

Other Illinois communities with 311 centers include Chicago, Romeoville and Schaumburg. Elgin is expected to launch its center later this year.

Evanston users of most landline, internet and cell phone services can already use the three digit number to call the Evanston center. But McRae said others will be added over the next several months — AT&T Wireless on Wednesday, Sprint later this week or next, Comcast digital voice later this month and AT&T Uverse not until this fall.

Residents for whom 311 doesn't yet work and people calling from out of town can use 847-448-4311 to reach the service.

Susan Pontarelli, a supervisor for the center, said that it will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day with two operators on duty early and late in the day and at least four working during mid-day hours. Calls will go to a voicemail system after hours.

311 operator Yoseif Michael at his computer.

Bobkiewicz said that some information phone lines for individual departments have already been switched over to ring in the 311 center and that more will be changed over during the next several weeks.

The change, he said means the elimination of some jobs in those departments.

But he said the biggest benefit of the new center is that all calls from residents will be logged and tracked in a computer database so that the city will be able to provide regular reports on how quickly and successfully its staff is responding to requests.

Until now, requests have generally been written down on slips of paper. He said that leads to many requests getting lost and means there's no effective way to track performance.

Bobkiewicz said if the system had been in operation during last month's snow storm it would have been much easier to dispatch snow plows to areas of town were citizens were calling to report that they were still snowed in in the aftermath of the storm.

The service also has an online component that residents can reach at cityofevanston.org/311. It provides a database of answers to frequently asked questions about city services and forms that users can fill out to ask questions or request city services.

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