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3-1-1 could use some 9-1-1 to meet year-end deadline

With just six months to go before the year-end deadline to establish a 3-1-1 nonemergency call system, the city still has some work to do.

With just six months to go before the year-end deadline to establish a 3-1-1 nonemergency call system, the city still has some work to do.

Officials are months away from formally requesting proposals from vendors to provide software for the center. After deciding to withdraw a contract awarded in April, they also have to request proposals for a technology consultant.

And there's still no price tag for the project.

Still, Managing Director Camille Barnett says 3-1-1 will definitely be up by the end the year. She said the initial rollout may be basic, so while there will be a working 3-1-1 number and operators taking calls, the software system to help process calls may not be fully in place.

First launched in Baltimore in 1996, 3-1-1 systems provide a number to call with nonemergency city complaints or questions - like reporting a pothole or asking how to get a marriage license.

Supporters say that these systems ease the stress on 9-1-1 operators and provide better customer service to residents.

Mayor Nutter has made establishing a Philly 3-1-1 service a priority. And Barnett said that the wheels are definitely in motion.

A call center is under construction on the first floor of City Hall to house 42 call-takers, as well as to provide office and training space. And a call-center director has been hired.

Rosetta Carrington Lue has started work as the 3-1-1 call-center director, Barnett said. Lue - who has a background in customer service, including working with call centers - will oversee the set-up of the center and run the operation.

Already, the 3-1-1 process has hit an obstacle. In April, the city awarded a $275,500 contract for 3-1-1 consulting to Gartner Inc., an international technology firm that had been under contract with the city. No other firms were given the opportunity to bid on the work.

Shortly after awarding the contract, the city changed course and said that it would cut short the Gartner contract and request competititve bids for the rest of the work.

Nutter said that that decision was in keeping with his goal of reducing the number of no-bid contracts. But it could slow down the 3-1-1 startup.

Besides technology consulting, the city needs to invest in software for the call center. In other cities, 3-1-1 call takers work on computers equipped with high-tech software that allows them to find data or make service requests.

The city is not yet ready to request proposals from software vendors.

"I'm hopeful that it's out by July," Barnett said of the request, before amending July to "the end of summer."

And once the city requests proposals, it then has to review them and hire a vendor. Barnett insisted that there would be enough time to get 3-1-1 started by the end of the year.

About 15 tech firms initially expressed interest in the contract, Barnett said. She said the city will open the bid to all interested parties.

The software will likely be the biggest 3-1-1 expense. Work on the call center was under way before Nutter took office, and much of the personnel will come from city ranks.

Barnett would not even guess at a price range for the project.

"I'm not going to be able to say how much it will cost, and I'm not going to be able to say how much it saves," she said.

Startup costs for 3-1-1 systems have varied widely in other cities. They were $6.2 million in Minneapolis and $25 million in New York City.

"In other cities those numbers have been anywhere from $4 million to $8 million, maybe more," said Uri Monson, acting executive director of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. "It could be a significant amount of money."

Nutter's five-year plan allocates just $2 million annually for both 3-1-1 and PhillyStat, a program that tracks data from city departments.

The mayor has said that the city may secure private funding for 3-1-1. Barnett said that that was still possible.

"We have had some expressions of interest from foundations, but I don't have any results," she said. *