Only Two Staffers at Cleveland's 311 Call Center Were Answering Phones After Winter Storm Because No One Else Could Get to Work

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Only Two Staffers at Cleveland's 311 Call Center Were Answering Phones After Winter Storm Because No One Else Could Get to Work (3)
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

Only two workers at the city of Cleveland's 311 call center were available to answer phones after last week's major winter storm, officials said Monday, because the rest of the staff were snowed in and couldn't get to work. The staffing shortage left hundreds of callers with long hold times and many who were never helped.

The 311 call center is the city's non-emergency response center. Those who answer the phones record the requests for service and refer them to the appropriate city department for fulfilment. Over the past three weeks, unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the incoming calls have been related to snow removal.

At a Monday meeting of city council's Municipal Services and Properties committee, Kim Roy Wilson, the city's Commissioner of Information Technology, said that fully-staffed, the 311 center has seven employees. On ordinary days, the 311 line might receive a few hundred requests for service, but during "epic snow events," she said, the number of calls can reach 2,000 to 3,000.

According to Rick Roscoe, who manages the 311 call center and appeared at the meeting, they received 1,200 calls last Friday when only two staffers and a supervisor were available. Roughly 500 of the calls were answered, Roscoe said.

Multiple council people were interested in the responsiveness of the city's call centers, as they were being inundated with constituent calls as well and suspected that many residents, some of whom were facing dire professional or medical consequences, were left without answers. Communication snafus were among the main criticisms with the city's response, apart from shortages in equipment and personnel.

Bonnie Teeuwen, Mayor Justin Bibb's new Chief Operations Officer, fielded questions alongside outgoing Director of Public Works, Michael Cox. She said that while the city adhered to its guidelines for snow removal, the response was clearly insufficient.

Among other things, Teeuwen said that the administration was now in communication with a firm that specializes in "route optimization" for snow removal and is already contracted by the City of Pittsburgh. Teeuwen reiterated plans to enlarge the fleet with new and retrofitted equipment and stressed the need to invest in management and personnel.

But council stressed the need for better communication with residents and council members themselves. Several said they felt powerless to answer questions from constituents about when their streets would be plowed or provide updates about inaccuracies in the newly launched public-facing plow tracker, which Teeuwen said was constantly being updated and improved. 

“With the new administration, we’re all in as far as how can we improve this process?" Teeuwen said. "How do we communicate with you guys? How do we communicate through the media? And how do we, as a collective group, communicate to residents and businesses? We're ready to really work as a team to figure out what the policy should be."

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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