City of Ottawa 3-1-1 #fail ?

You may have noticed that there is a question mark at the end of my blog post title. That’s because I didn’t want to make it sound like a statement, in case I’m missing something. Here’s what I experienced today and would love some of your feedback on:

I was driving north on Bank street this morning here in Ottawa and hit a massive patch of black ice right before a busy intersection. My ABS kicked in right away and I went into survival “summer tire” skidding mode for a few long seconds. Luckily my brakes were new and I had already started braking well before I hit the black ice in order to slow down for the upcoming intersection. My car came to diagonal stop right on the white line. The car behind me managed to almost do a 360, but somehow recovered and veered into the right turning lane as if that’s what the driver was trying to do all along. I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed a pile of cars approaching about 150 feet away. At this moment the light turned green for me so I decided it would be wise to get out of the way and keep going. When it was safe to do so I pulled aside (way past the intersection) and decided I should probably notify someone about the black ice since it was an accident waiting to happen.

And therein lies the issue: Who should I call?

I remembered hearing rumours that 3-1-1 (City) is an automated directory. No time for that. I was already late. I figured, the black ice before an intersection was quite serious so I decided to call 9-1-1. I was quick and to the point so as not to waste their time, however sure enough they pointed me to 3-1-1. Ok fair enough. I called 3-1-1 only to be greeted by the automated bot asking me if I would like service in french or English. I chose English. I was then read out a list of City Service options. None of them matched. I stayed on the line in order to try and connect to an actual person. I waited, and waited, listened to the music, then realized this was ridiculous and hung up.

Just out of curiosity I then called 2-1-1 (one of my past client’s), which is a service that provides information and referral to community and social services. The wonderful thing about them is that a “human” Certified Information and Referral Specialist always answers the phone. Sure enough, the kind gentleman apologized and referred me back to 3-1-1, since my concern was simply not part of the 2-1-1 mandate (and rightly so).

I called 3-1-1 again with no luck. At this point I gave up.

So now I ask you, what did I do wrong? I wanted to help, I tried to help, but was faced with a blockade. Should the other services have jumped in? Should there be another X-1-1 service for “not yet serious” emergencies? This really got me wondering how many potential accidents could have been avoided in the past if only citizen warning calls got through to someone.

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