What is 311 and When Should I Use it?

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If your city has a 311 service, you can call to report issues like abandoned vehicles, noise complaints, and graffiti. By adding a second channel for citizens to report problems, 911 operators are freer to address emergencies.

While it isn’t available nationally, many metro areas have a 311 system in place. Cities like San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles have mobile apps to make reporting issues easier.

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How does 311 work? 

Basically, 311 is a type of citizens’ hotline. It’s a simple way for you to report problems or ask questions about your community without tying up emergency lines or going through frustrating municipal channels.

When you call 311 or your local municipal number (some cities have both), you’ll connect with a trained representative who can help you out. They can forward complaints to local government, local utilities, and other public services to get the problem fixed or answer your question.

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Fun fact

The 311 system started in Baltimore in 1996 as an informational system but quickly evolved into a way to address non-emergency concerns throughout the city. Today, cities across the US and Canada have put similar 311 systems into place.

What happens when I call 311? 

When you call 311, a customer service representative will answer your service request. Just like 911, these representatives have been trained to help send your request or complaint through the right non-emergency channels.

Let’s say a traffic light in your neighborhood is malfunctioning (yikes). You can call 311 to notify your city and have it repaired.

Depending on your service request, they’ll answer your question or send municipal services to the location to fix the problem.

What can I report to 311? 

311 was designed to take all those calls to 911 that aren’t true emergencies. But even non-emergencies can escalate into serious situations.

Here’s a list of a few of the most common reasons to call 311:

  • Sidewalk and road repairs 
  • Noise complaints 
  • Abandoned vehicles 
  • Large debris blocking roadways
  • Garbage bin replacements
  • Dangerous animal complaints
  • Damaged traffic signals or road signs 
  • Graffiti removal
  • Leaking hydrant or sewer problems

911 lines are flooded with calls every day. Using your local 311 line will free up 911 operators to help people in life-or-death situations. Before you call the police, consider whether or not your concern is an emergency.

If you have an emergency like a serious injury or fire in your home, call 911. But in other situations, your local services can be just as effective.

How do I use 311? 

The 311 system varies from city to city, but the most reliable way to contact this service is through your phone or online.

You can dial 311 to report an issue or, if your city has one, use the 311 app.

Mobile app names also vary by city. For example, in Los Angeles, the app is called MyLA311 while in New York City, it goes by NYC311. Check to see if your city has a 311 service or app to get started.

Where is 311 available?

There are almost 100 cities and towns across the country that have a 311 response program. These are some of the major cities that have a 311 service:

Major Cities with a 311 Program

Services vary from city to city, but using 311 can help make your city a safer, more enjoyable place to live.

If you don’t see your area on this list, you may still be able to reach your city services for help. You can usually find municipal services and phone numbers on your city’s home page.

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Katie McEntire
Written by
Katie McEntire
As a renter, pet-owner, and woman living alone, Katie McEntire takes safety seriously. She’s tested devices like pet cameras, home security systems, and GPS trackers in her own home and devices in the name of safety. In addition to testing, writing, and reviewing for SafeWise, she also makes videos for the site’s YouTube channel. She’s been featured on publications like TechGuySmartBuy, Forbes, Healthy Moms, and Digital Care. Katie has a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Writing from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She’s held previous writing positions at Overstock.com and Top Ten Reviews.

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