Alternative Non-Emergency Numbers — 988, 311, and 211

Alternative Non-Emergency Numbers — 988, 311, and 211

Content curated by Mary C. Norris

Alternative 911 numbers that are currently in place are 311 and 211, with 988 launching in the summer 2022. These numbers are meant to divert those phone calls made by the public that are not life-threatening categories.


988 was established in 2005 for suicide prevention. In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed 988 as the go-to three-digit number for suicide prevention with a plan of action for July 2022, to set 988 as a “universal” known number. 988 is not a nationwide calling code right now.

While this prefix is not yet nationally known or available, the intent is to route calls directly to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Automated routing will:

  • Provide enhanced access for people in behavioral health crisis through the use of an easily remembered three-digit number

  • Reduce reliance on the police by linking Lifeline/988 centers with mobile crisis teams (when the person in crisis requires services beyond what the call center itself provides)

  • Reduce the deadly gaps in the existing fragmented behavioral health crisis care system by enabling Lifeline/988 centers to stay in contact and follow up with those in crisis

  • Relieve emergency room boarding by providing needed evaluation and crisis intervention in the community whenever possible; and

  • Better meet the behavioral health needs of all people experiencing crises in a way that reduces stigma and encourages people at risk and their family members to seek help in the future.


311 was first adopted by Baltimore, Md., in 1996. Used as a “catch-all” for common residence complaints as well as government-related ones. In 2010, federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra announced the creation of Open 311, an application programming interface (API), allowing a greater standardization of modern 311 systems across jurisdictions. Many cities have used it to build mobile 311 apps (applications) that have lightened the load on call centers and made connecting with citizens cheaper and more versatile to address the following:

  • To capture details about every phone call, query, complaint, and request.

  • Generating insight into how workers delivered city services.

  • Report problems that bothered citizens the most, from too much noise and streets in need of repair.

  • Report trash in abandoned lots and illegal parking.

  • Report graffiti and potholes manually, therefore having citizens become the eyes and ears of the city.


In mid-July 2021, United Way Worldwide helped launch a 211 public service prefix. 211 provides individuals and families in need with a shortcut to health and human service agency phone numbers and assists in the following:

  • Basic Human Needs Resources – including food and clothing banks, shelters, rent assistance, and utility assistance.

  • Physical and Mental Health Resources – including health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, maternal health resources, health insurance programs for children, medical information lines, crisis intervention services, support groups, counseling, and drug and alcohol intervention and rehabilitation.

  • Work Support – including financial assistance, job training, transportation assistance and education programs.

  • Access to Services in Non-English Languages - including language translation and interpretation services to help non-English-speaking people find public resources (Foreign language services vary by location.)

  • Support for Older Americans and Persons with Disabilities – including adult day care, community meals, respite care, home health care, transportation and homemaker services.

  • Children, Youth and Family Support – including child care, after-school programs, educational programs for low-income families, family resource centers, summer camps and recreation programs, mentoring, tutoring and protective services.


All content quoted and/or derived from the following:

Cohen, L. (2020, July 16). 988 to become the new 911 for suicide prevention. CBS News. Retrieved from 988 to become the new 911 for suicide prevention - CBS News

Dial 211 for Essential Community Services. (2011, May 6). Federal Communications Commission. Dial 211 for Essential Community Services | Federal Communications Commission

Wood, C. (2016, August 2). What Is 311? GovTech. What Is 311?