Vermont 211 struggled to keep up with deluge of flood calls

Published: Aug. 2, 2023 at 5:58 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - For weeks, Vermont officials have been urging residents to call 211 to report damage from this month’s historic flooding. But in recent days, there’s been growing criticism about the 211 system, which was quickly overwhelmed by the disaster.

For much of its history, the system operated 24-7. But in mid-June, the United Ways of Vermont announced that it was scaling back the call center’s hours in response to a change in its contract with the state. Ten days later, storms began dropping more than nine inches of rain on some parts of the state, and 211 was soon overwhelmed by calls.

Data from the system — including specific details about damages to homes, phone numbers and whether residents wanted volunteer help — were being shared with dozens of disaster relief organizations, including faith-based groups, that descended on the state after the storm. Yet some cities, towns and local volunteers were not dialed in to what their neighbors reported.

Cat Viglienzoni spoke with Seven Days’ Kevin McCallum, who reported in this week’s issue on the communication breakdown and what steps are being taken to address it.