A new central telephone number will begin operating in the District next week to handle low priority calls -- such as reports of downed power lines, abandoned cars, potholes, stray animals -- that have been going to the 911 emergency number.
The new system, announced yesterday, will operate in conjunction with an enhanced 911 system the city plans to install in the spring. D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. said at a news conference yesterday that the new 911 system will display the caller's telephone number and address by computer, enabling emergency personnel to respond quicker.
City officials said yesterday that almost half of the calls that have been going to 911 haven't required police, fire or medical services.
Residents who call the new number, 8-DC-HELP, will reach an operator who will give them the name and telephone number of a contact person in the appropriate city agency. Calls that require emergency service will be transferred to the 911 number, he said.
The new nonemergency system, which will cost $300,000 annually and will be administered by the Office of Emergency Preparedness, is scheduled to begin Monday on a limited basis, according to director Joseph P. Yeldell. Until late April when the new 911 system is to begin operating, service for the HELP line will be available only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Yeldell said that operators for the new number will notify agencies and send callers a letter acknowledging that their complaints were received.
"The agency will have have five days to respond and let us know that the problem has been taken care of," Yeldell said. " . . . If the problem has not been taken care of, we will send a report to the city administrator and the mayor so they will be aware of what is going on."