For most people, it's 311. For others, it's #311. But for some, it's not a working number at all.
Cheryl Garcia (from left), Dorothy Jones and Lauri Jones are the 311 operators for Columbia County.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Since going live July 1, customer calls to Columbia County's new three-digit information line have far outpaced those to the old seven-digit number.
Some county residents, however, do not have access to the number designed to handle nonemergency and service calls such as sewer line breaks, downed tree limbs and loose animals.
The 311 number does not work for Verizon Wireless customers, said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's director of emergency services. Verizon customers must dial the old number, (706) 868-3375.
In March, Tucker said Verizon and T-Mobile required a contract from the county to activate the 311 number. The contracts were forwarded to the county attorney, who made changes that T-Mobile accepted, but Verizon did not, Tucker said.
The nation's second-largest provider, Verizon, is the only major carrier that has not enrolled in the program, and Tucker said she does not know when or if the company will do so. If Verizon is added to the program, she said, all county residents will be able to use the number.
Caran Smith, Verizon's public relations manager for Georgia and Alabama, said the company is in negotiations with the county to bring the service to their customers.
"We're no stranger to this request," Smith said. "We have successfully implemented it in a number of counties across the country and we are working on a similar effort with Columbia County."
Verizon Wireless is trying to complete negotiations and fully implement the 311 system as soon as possible, Smith said. She could not give an exact date.
For other residents, the 311 number is available, but dialing 311 isn't enough. AT&T Wireless, Cingular and Sprint customers must press the pound key before dialing the number.
On the other hand, BellSouth, Knology, Birch, KMC Telecom, Alltel, Nextel, NuVox, SunCom and T-Mobile customers can simply dial 311.
Despite the lack of service for some customers, Tucker said, the popularity of the new number is growing.
In June, 942 calls were made to the old county information line. When the 311 went live, that number increased to 1,186 in July and 1,791 calls in August.
The county created the new number to be easy to remember and to reduce congestion on the county's emergency dispatch lines. There was no additional cost to taxpayers to switch, and the three emergency dispatch employees answered phones under the old number.
The county also added telephone equipment to assist hearing-impaired callers as mandated by the Georgia Public Service Commission. The cost of that equipment was covered by the commission.
"(With) the thunderstorms, the flooding issues and mosquito issues, (the new number) has been a big help," Tucker said. "We're hearing from people, saying, 'My God, this service is wonderful.'"
The three-digit help line is unique to the area. Augusta-Richmond County has its Augusta Cares line that connects residents with all public utilities, but it is a seven-digit number.
The 311 information line is staffed from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, but the phone system will route after-hours calls to the proper department, Tucker said.
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