Disasters come in a variety of forms. Frequently we think of a disaster as a catastrophic event that effects a large number of people. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes and terrorist attacks all have the potential to create a large scale disaster. These hazards become a disaster when resources are overwhelmed creating a situation beyond our ability to control.
Day-to-day personal disasters are just as real, but occur on a much smaller scale. The ability to pay a utility bill, locate affordable medical care, find food or shelter, receive financial help or even assistance with preparing your income tax is only a phone call away. 2-1-1 is a nationwide referral program that has been developed to put those in need in touch with programs that can help. The operators at 2-1-1 are trained to be able to determine the need and put the caller in touch with just the right person or agency to help meet the need.
Programs vary from state to state. Go to www.211us.org to learn how the 2-1-1 system in your area works. It is operated by United Way Worldwide (UWW) and the Alliance for Information and Referral Systems (AIRS). Do you know a neighbor or friend who is in need? Quite honestly regardless of the nature of the need, there is probably a program that can help. 2-1-1 is a good place to find that help.
It also works in the reverse. Are you looking for an opportunity to serve? Need a good Eagle Scout project? Community service hours? Your local 2-1-1 program can connect you with great opportunities to make a difference in your own community.
Another benefit of 2-1-1 is as a communication hub during a large scale disaster. Local law enforcement officials communicate information directly to 2-1-1. Contacting 2-1-1 for disaster related information frees up emergency channels for critical communications. It might be one more option for obtaining critical information in an emergency.
I was at our Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meeting today and participated in a presentation on the benefits of 2-1-1. A comment was made about how this program could have saved 2 lives just this week. A family was unable to pay their utility bill and as a result, their power was turned off. They resorted to using a generator to provide power. Carbon monoxide poisoning killed two of them and left two others in critical condition.
I am a huge advocate of self-reliance and not depending on others for the support of my family. However, there are times in all of our lives when personal disasters create a situation when we need a little bit of help. That’s when these programs should be used. If only this family had known that they could call 2-1-1 and be connected with people who could help them pay their utility bill and keep the power turned on, this tragedy might have been prevented.