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Help (lines) in times of need


We all know to call 911 in an emergency. Dialing 911 from any telephone will link the caller to an emergency dispatch center which will provide the caller access to police, fire and ambulance services.

In most areas, dialing 911 on a traditional landline telephone automatically gives dispatch the caller's address.

This provides emergency responders with the location of the emergency without the caller having to provide it. This is very useful in times of fires, break-ins, kidnapping and other events where communicating one's location is difficult or impossible.

(I found that out years ago when I wrongly dialed 911. I hung up the phone immediately after I realized that I made a mistake. A few minutes later, to my surprise, a policeman showed up at my door to check if everything was OK.)

But many people probably don't know that there are other Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated telephone numbers available for non-emergency use.

In times of need and for various reasons, like some in our community are now experiencing due to loss of job or house, we can call these numbers to get help.

• 2-1-1

211 is used in the U.S. and Canada to provide quick and free information and referrals to health and human service organizations. It allows people to get help and give help.

Every day, people are in need of essential human services -- food and clothing, affordable housing, healthcare, employment resources, childcare and parenting programs, senior and youth services, counseling, education, utility and financial assistance, immigration, legal help, transportation, volunteer/donation opportunities and other vital community services.

211 connects individuals and families in need with the appropriate community-based organizations and government agencies.

It is an easy way for people in need to navigate the complex and ever-growing maze of human services.

It ensures that people in need can obtain assistance from the most appropriate community-based organizations or local and national government agencies.

In Minnesota, United Way 2-1-1 works in partnership with other organizations to provide 2-1-1 services statewide, using a statewide database of over 40,000 community resources.

It's free, confidential and available 24 /7. Multilingual service is also available.

211 also provides a single access point in the event of a local disaster or national emergency.

In 2007, the 211 call center coordinated disaster relief and case management after the I-35W Bridge collapse. It was instrumental in providing assistance to the victims and their families after the disaster.

If calling from a cell phone, use 651-291-0211 (metro) or 1-800-543-7709 (outstate).

For more information, visit,, or

• 3-1-1

311 is used in the U.S. and Canada for non-emergency municipal government information and services. Since 311 is a relatively new service, it is not widely used. In Twin Cities, people living within the Minneapolis city limits can call 311 to access city services and information.

For more information, visit or

• 4-1-1

411 is used in the U.S. and Canada for local and national directory assistance. If you want to know what the address of a building is, or the telephone number of a company, you can all 411 to get the information. 411 calls are not free.

• 5-1-1

511 is America's traveler information telephone number. It is a transportation and traffic information telephone hotline in some regions of the U.S. Travelers can dial 511on traditional landline telephones and most mobile phones.

511 gives commuters and travelers access to information regarding weather-related road conditions, construction and congestion, 24/7.

In 2000, the FCC approved 511 for nationwide use along with 211. Minnesota Dept. of Transportation is one of the first state DOTs to implement the 511 service.

The following information is available in Minnesota via 511 call or 511 website ( road conditions, traffic incidents, current construction, public transit in Minnesota, commercial vehicle permits and restrictions.

Traffic cameras in the Metro Area and many locations in greater Minnesota provide images of traffic and weather conditions for 511.

• 6-1-1

611 is used in the U.S. and Canada for phone service customers to report a problem with telephone service or with a payphone. Many mobile phone service providers also use 611 as a general customer service number. The 611number is not officially assigned by the FCC. Only customers of some telephone companies have access to it.

• 7-1-1

711 is used in the U.S. and Canada for access to Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS). TRS permits persons with a hearing or speech disability to use the telephone system via a text telephone or other device to call persons with or without such disabilities. 711 lets these people talk through an operator, by turning the words into something that can be read on a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD).

I hope I don't need to use these phone numbers and services, but they will certainly be handy in times of need. So I thought it is good to know and worth to share with others.

[Editor's note: In case you're wondering if there's a general "8-1-1" number with a distinctive function, the answer is no. 811 used to be a direct line to the business office of the specific telephone company providing service on the line. 611 took the place of 811 in 2007.]