After breaking up the East Baton Rouge Parish Department of Public Works, the city-parish has introduced a new 311 app to allow residents to report problems as part of an ongoing effort to streamline services.
Red Stick 311 will offer a new method for communicating problems with blight, garbage collection and a variety of other issues. It is free and available on Apple and Android devices.
In 2014, voters agreed to replace the city-parish department with six branches, each overseeing a specific area, such as maintenance, development and the environmental services. The system was implemented last year.
In the past, crews were tied to one of three geographic areas, but now “it’s function-specific,” said Trina Hall, assistant director of operations and capital projects.
As a result, workers have become more mobile, so if there is a lot of rain in one area of the parish or if extra street crews are needed in a specific area, they can be deployed more effectively, she said.
And there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Last year, the 311 complaint line, on which residents can report potholes, malfunctioning traffic lights and other problems, fielded 7,791 calls just for damaged garbage carts, the most frequent complaint. Or maybe it was 7,808. Responding to a public records request, the city-parish gave different numbers for the same data in different documents.
William Daniel, the mayor’s chief administrative officer, conceded that “quite a few” numbers in the 311 records are wrong. Prior to 2012, the city-parish used a system intended to monitor wastewater treatment plants to log all complaints. The city-parish made the switch to a new system a few years ago, but Daniel said it was trying to figure it out on the fly and made some missteps, such as including more than 100 different codes for minute differences in complaints.
“It was confusing to the 311 operators,” Daniel said. “It became problematic.”
Now, departments are going case by case to determine if old cases marked open were actually addressed. The system, Daniel said, appears to be working correctly.
“I think today we’ve got it pretty well straightened out,” he said.
Last week, authorities announced the launch of the new smartphone app to make reporting concerns easier. Red Stick 311 uses a geolocating service on phones to pinpoint the location where a complaint is issued. Reporters also can snap a photo of the damaged street sign, pockmarked road, blighted property or drainage overflow to show crews the severity of the problem.
“It will be really beneficial. … What’s better than a picture?” said 311 Call Center manager Barbara Bryant.
The day after the app was introduced, the public reported about 40 incidents, said Eric Romero, the city-parish’s information technology director.
“The more and more the public gets tech savvy, the more they’re going to want to use technology to communicate with the parish,” he said.
The app still has a way to go before it overtakes the traditional call line. Speaking Thursday afternoon, Bryant said the current shift of 311 dispatchers had received 314 calls between 7:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m., which she said is not an especially large volume. It also did not account for sewer calls, which get routed to their own line.
Romero said officials will continue to look for new ways to converse with the public. Some cities have tried using social media, such as using a particular hashtag on Twitter to call attention to a public works issue, though he has some concerns about getting sufficient information in 140 characters.
More information about the app, including download instructions for Apple and Android devices, is available at 311.brla.gov.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.