Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.

Each year, the month of September is recognized as National Preparedness Month. This month provides an opportunity to remind us that we all must prepare ourselves and our families now and throughout the year. The theme of National Preparedness Month 2018 is “Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.” Some recommendations suggested for people to take during this month are learn lifesaving skills, such as CPR and first aid and check your insurance policies and coverage for hazards like tornadoes and hurricanes. The perfect day to complete the recommendations is on September 15, which is National Day of Action.

During times of traumatic weather, United Way’s 2-1-1 steps in with full force. 2-1-1 Connects Alabama is a statewide network of regional call centers whose mission is to provide easy access to health and human services available throughout Alabama. In 2017, 2-1-1 received 37,987 calls. Top caller needs throughout the year include utility payment assistance, tax preparation assistance, access to food, and access to affordable housing. 2-1-1 can be reached by dialing 2-1-1, calling or texting 1-888-421-1266, or chatting from the 2-1-1 website, www.211connectsalabama.org, under the “Contact” tab.

We spoke with Shakeitha Tatum, Community Service Response Center Assistant VP to learn more about what all happens.

Q: What exactly is 2-1-1’s role in times of disaster?

A: When the Governor declares a State of Emergency, all phone numbers for 2-1-1 locations across the state of Alabama are posted, and residents are instructed to call in and see what resources are available.

Q: What happens when 2-1-1 goes into disaster response mode?

An internal disaster specific page is created through 2-1-1 to help Call Specialists to be able to identify resources more quickly. 2-1-1 Staff also works with VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) and county representatives to talk about what resources are out there and available to the community.

Q: What did United Way of Central Alabama and 2-1-1 do during Hurricane Maria?

A: 20 staff members and outside volunteers were trained to assist with calls to 2-1-1’s disaster line. Our staff also covered Mobile’s 2-1-1 calls during that time since they faced operational disruptions. Those threatened on Alabama’s coast needing to evacuate called our local 2-1-1 for assistance.

Q: What disaster has been the most remembered by UWCA?

A: When the tornadoes touched down in 2011, the 2-1-1 Call Center moved to the Board Room at United Way, and its three call stations expanded to over 30. Over 730 volunteers rotated 24 hours a day on four-hour shifts taking over 20,000 calls, including calls for Huntsville and Tuscaloosa whose centers were out of operation at the time.

Q: What are the top needs people call for during disasters?

A: People call to find out information on road closures, where to find hot food and clothing, and what shelters are open. Assistance with purchasing gas is also a big request during a time of disaster. A type of call we love receiving is residents inquiring about ways they can volunteer and help those in need.