Some callers to Moco information number faced long waits in during last month’s storm

In the aftermath of mid-February’s massive snowstorm, callers to MC311, Montgomery County’s non-emergency number, faced wait times averaging as long as 35 minutes for basic information on street plowing, bus service and trash pick up, officials told the County Council Tuesday.

At 11 a.m. on Feb. 14th, 103 callers waited in the phone system’s queue. More than 70 percent of them gave up because of the lengthy waits, according to call center records. At other parts of the same day, waits ranged from an average of 9.5 minutes to less than a minute.

“This doesn’t seem like a system that is working the way we would like it to work,” said Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda).

MC311 handles about 40,000 calls a month. A recent report by the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight found that the average wait time for a caller is about 20 seconds. But it had a rocky few hours during the Valentine’s Day storm.

Leslie Hamm, the MC311 director, attributed last month’s problems to servers that weren’t in sync with the phone system. Service representatives needed more time to process calls, and in some instances could not pick up the next call in the queue. Callers were not aware of the problems at first, because the welcome message was not changed to one announcing technical issues until about 9:30 that morning.

Council members, who fielded their own calls from constituents during the storm, wanted assurances from agency officials that the problem would not recur. They acknowledged the generally reliable work of the MC311, but said that one unfortunate episode during a big storm is what people tend to remember.

“I think we have to figure out how to be a little bit more robust in answering the calls,” said Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large).

“I don’t want to be ungrateful or not appreciative,” said Council member Nancy Navarro (D-Midcounty), but the call centers performance last month “doesn’t cut it.”

Hamm, the director, said the situation was “completely unacceptable,” and told council members that steps are being taken to upgrade current servers so there is not a recurrence.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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