Those in the Tampa-area seeking help during Hurricane Irma may find themselves on the phone with someone in Sacramento.
Tampa's 211 emergency helpline has been completely shut down and now a make-shift call center in Sacramento is taking all of their calls.
"In most cases we would take overflow calls," Richard Abrusci, Sacramento County's executive director for 211, told ABC10 Saturday afternoon. "In this situation... they have completely decommissioned their 211 and have literally forwarded their entire network to us."
Volunteers plan to work 24/7 out of a local Goodwill center in Sacramento. Abrusci said they anticipate the calls to increase as the storm moves in.
"The severity of the calls are starting to shift a little bit," Abrusci explained. "Earlier this afternoon, we were getting calls from people that were looking for evacuation orders, trying to figure out what zones they were in. We’re now getting the more desperate calls where people have realized the storm is coming, they haven’t been able to evacuate, they need transportation."
The emergency helpline provides people with information and community service and organization referrals on everything from child care to disaster relief.
Ahead of Irma, the volunteers in Sacramento are helping those in Tampa find nearby evacuation centers that fit their needs (pet-friendly, wheel-chair accessible, etc), as well as help find transportation. They use technology that provides them live updates for every available shelter.
But, Abrusci added, "we're anticipating a pretty heavy onset of calls once the storm touches down."
Several people in the Sacramento-area have already signed up to help, such as Gwen Conklin, whose good friend from Sacramento is currently visiting family in Tampa.
"It's nice to be able to donate money to help...but to find out you can actually come and actually do something to help, that was wonderful," Conklin explained. "So, I immediately sent an email to volunteer."
Abrusci said they are looking for more volunteers, especially for the overnight shifts. Email him at email@example.com for more information.
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