During the worst of this week's storm, calls overwhelmed the 911 system when concerned new Yorkers should have dialed 311. Now, 911 calls are back to normal, but 311 operators are fielding a near record number, amid their own personal difficulties. YNN's Josh Robin has that part of our coverage.
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NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. -- Electricity is out at this building, like so many others in Lower Manhattan. But a humming generator outside is keeping alive one familiar city agency.
The 311 center never shut down. It's fielding questions: Where to find food, where to find shelter, how to get around. Or simply a voice on the other end.
"We handle calls and we empathize with people's situation. It's not robotic. We're humans. We're New Yorkers. So we want to be there for New Yorkers and identify with their situation and most of us are dealing with the same, or similar, situations," said 311 representative Jason Parker.
Pointing to that: Cots in a room otherwise used for training.
Call Center Director Saadia Chaudhry said, "We've had many people that have stayed here because on site we at least have power whereas they don't at home. They're taking calls, they're doing what it takes."
Calls are coming in at five times the average volume. That's made Wednesday and Thursday the third and fourth busiest days in 311 history. The busiest two days were two days in January 2011, when two difference blizzards hit.
As for 911, calls have slowed, but not yet to normal.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said, "Monday-Tuesday, we had 100,000 calls a day. Now it's down to about 35,000 calls yesterday. That's 5,000 calls over the average.”
At 311, Parker says he fields calls now about things he can't answer: Like what gas stations are open. Even then, he tries to help.
Parker said, "Typically you don't get a live person as quickly as you get a live person when you dial 311. So just to hear a live person be able to address your questions and your concerns about the shortage of gas and anything else for that matter, is definitely soothing."
Chaudhry said, "It's a lot of pressure, I'm sure for a lot of people. It's back to back calls. And we empathize. Again, we're going through the same thing."
Officials say it would bring down waits if people went to nyc.gov/311. Or you can text 311692. But they say, if you want to call, pick up the phone.