County News

Resilient Counties Luncheon: Supporting Disaster Preparedness

San Diego County, Calif. Supervisor Greg Cox and Sonoma County, Calif. Supervisor Jamie Gore discuss San Diego’s 211 system. Photo by Jessica Yurinko

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NACo President Greg Cox touts 211 call system for connecting the unconnected.

Who spoke:

  • Greg Cox, NACo first vice president (now NACo president), supervisor, San Diego County, Calif.
  • Chris Fennell, chief development and marketing manager, Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Nick Macchione, director, Health and Human Services Agency, San Diego County, Calif.
  • John Ohanian, president and CEO, 2-1-1 San Diego, Calif.
  • Mat Heyman, guest researcher, National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • Steven C. Seachrist, PE, engineer V, Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources, Gwinnett County, Ca.

What participants learned: “I think Mahatma Ghandi once said a society is measured on how it treats its most vulnerable,” San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox said July 14 while speaking to NACo members at the Resilient Counties Lunch at the Annual Conference.

Cox, who was about to be sworn in as the next president of NACo, previewed his initiative “Connecting the Unconnected” with the audience.

“What we have found,” he said, “with our 211-call system, we are really focused on connecting the unconnected. People in our community who need the most services who don’t know where to turn in a time of need, they’re floundering around. They’re trying to figure out where do they go? Who do they call? Who do they see?”

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Staff Contact: Jenna Moran

United Way had operated a similar service there, he said, but when they decided to shut it down; a 501(c)3 non-profit was created in 2005 and championed by the county.

The county also decided to use it as a tool during disasters, he said. During fire disasters in 2007, the county was rolling out a new reverse 911 and mass notification system that included the 211 information in a recording. In all, the county received 160,000 calls over several days of the fires with phones manned by 1,200 volunteers. The year before, they had received 120,000 for the entire year, he noted.

“We’ve become a real firm believer in 211,” Cox said. One of the first things those who worked for the new 211 service did was to take inventory of all of the non-profits in the county, discovering there are more than 1,200 offering 6,000 programs to help residents.

“But if people don’t know how to access them, what good are they?” Cox asked. “We have to have a way for people to get connected to services that are out there — 211 is the first intake for people in need of food,” for instance, he said. “We’re not dealing with just one issue. Too often we find ourselves in silos. What 211 has been able to do...we’re dealing with the entire needs of the family. We think it’s been a remarkable turnaround in San Diego.”

When a county resident calls 211, they’re calling for help with everything from mental illness to financial problems. The representative who answers the phone is trained to connect them to one of the programs that can help.

Sonoma County, Calif. Supervisor James Gore, chair of NACo’s Resilient Counties Advisory Board, recently visited San Diego County to find out more about the service. “You might think it sounds like this tech tool but it’s really a movement,” he said, “and it is just rolling.”


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