The COVID-19 crisis has been a good test of Washington 211’s ability to ramp up to handle large volumes of calls in emergency situations. Two weeks ago, the Washington 211 Network began handling calls from the Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 hotline (1-800-525-0127). Here are the highlights:

Over 30,000 Calls Have Been Made to the Hotline
Every caller first hears pre-recorded information on COVID-19 and roughly one-third of those callers hang up upon hearing the information. Four out of five callers that do enter the call queue stay on the line or request an automatic call back and talk with a live 211 agent.

The System Has Held Over 200 Callers at One Time
To keep up with call volumes, the number of incoming ports that allow callers to be put on hold has been increased. Originally increased from 46 to 200 when the 211 network took over the COVID-19 hotline (March 9), the capacity has now been increased to 300 to handle peak calling periods.

Good Coordination with Governor’s Office and Department of Health
The Washington State Department of Health has been a close partner with Washington 211, providing regular updates to ensure our operators have the latest information. The Governor’s announcements can cause a spike in calls. However, when Governor Inslee announced his Stay Home order earlier this week, Washington 211 was provided sufficient heads-up to ensure enough operators were available to handle volumes. Social distancing orders require considerable interpretation and Washington 211 call receivers have been on the front line of identifying questions that need answering. For instance, the Governor’s recent announcement generated considerable questions about what businesses will remain open. Washington 211 maintains a list of all questions. 

Flexible Call System Allows for Rapid Deployment
The Washington 211 call system software has allowed call receivers to work from home. This allows for staff to be called into duty when call volumes increase. Currently, the Washington 211 Network has over 120 people ready to take calls, doubled from two weeks ago. This has been a remarkable ramping up that involves thorough training and coaching of new call agents. 

New Technologies Deployed
The Washington 211 website now deploys an automated chat program to answer questions about COVID-19. Also, we have started to deploy a similar service through texting. This service will improve as we use it more. We’ll provide more information on this in a subsequent communication.

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