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Prince George's launches 311 County Click call system

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The Prince George's County government seeks to consolidate its services with two recent endeavors: the 311 County Click call system and creation of the Department of Permits, Inspection and Enforcement.

Launched last October, 311 County Click allows county residents to request non-emergency government services without having to call 911.

Jennifer Hawkins, senior manager of the 311 Call Center, said the system is intended to be a "sole repository for citizens for complaints and service requests. Now citizens have a focal point of entry for government information and services."

Hawkins said that the county has phone numbers for more than 50 different agencies, and that it can be difficult for people to remember which agency to call for a given service.

"311 is a quick and easy number for citizens to remember," Hawkins said.

The end goal is to have all of the agencies' numbers redirected to the 311 Call Center, she said, but that process, as well as employee training, will most likely take several more months.

"We want to be assured our staff is prepared to answer all the different types of calls we're receiving," Hawkins said.

In addition to the call center, 311 County Click incorporates a smartphone app available for the iPhone and Android devices.

"If you see a pothole, you can take a picture and send it to us on the spot," said Musa Eubanks, director of the county's Office of Community Relations.

"We want the information however citizens get it to us, and we want to make it as easy as possible," Eubanks said.

Eubanks said department members toured call centers for 311 systems implemented in Montgomery County and Washington before launching County Click.

"We mimicked a lot of the things they did," he said.

Cost consciousness was a factor in the county not starting 311 County Click at an earlier date, Eubanks said. In order to save money, county employees from other departments were brought in to work the call center.

Hawkins said another major aim of 311 County Click is to establish a sense of government transparency in the county.

"If a citizen calls for a particular service, it doesn't fall into a black hole somewhere," Hawkins said. "It is documented that they've made that request, and that information is available for the agency and the county executive's office to view."

"There's a lot of information we can dissect that will help us improve our processes," she said.

311 County Click has received more than 50,000 calls since it was first launched, Hawkins said, and even as a work in progress, the system is being received well by users.

"I'm receiving calls, emails and letters about really positive citizen experiences," she said. "That's an indication to me we're on the right track."

Streamlining tasks

The county's Department of Permits, Inspection and Enforcement, or DPIE, is an agency established to consolidate a variety of tasks related to permits and inspections for commercial and residential developments.

According to an informational handout from the Civic Leaders Breakfast held in Laurel Saturday, DPIE seeks to position the county "as a national model for permit processing, code enforcement, business licensing and environmental stewardship."

The vision of DPIE is to bring all of these processes and stakeholders under one roof to improve overall operations, according to information included in the handout.

Eubanks said 311 County Click and DPIE were both created with the government's customer base in mind, and each one streamlines processes that were previously spread across several agencies.

"It leads to better government, better efficiency for the citizens," Eubanks said.

Dan Singer is a journalism student at the University of Maryland.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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