2-1-1 is a special abbreviated telephone number reserved in the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) as an easy-to-remember three-digit code to reach information and referral services to health, human, and social service organizations.

Like the emergency telephone number 9-1-1, 2-1-1 is one of the eight N11 codes of the North American Numbering Plan (NANP).


United StatesEdit

For many years, New York Telephone (now a unit of Verizon) used 2-1-1 as an automated credit request number for disconnected or misdialed calls. This service was in service from the 1970s through the early 2000s.

Before the introduction of direct long-distance dialing, the long-distance operator was reached by dialing 2-1-1 for placing a long-distance call. When the states in the US and provinces in Canada were assigned area codes in 1947 by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), direct distance dialing (DDD) using the area code and the local number was introduced starting in 1951, eventually eliminating the use of the prefix. After that, the local telephone providers designated "00" for long-distance operator access.

In 1986, the United Way of San Diego created its INFO LINE in partnership with the County and City of San Diego.[citation needed] The United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta introduced a 2-1-1 service in 1997. Many states began implementation plans soon after, aided by the United Way of America in partnership with the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS). On July 20, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved 2-1-1 for nationwide use as a short number in the United States along with 5-1-1 for transportation. In Texas, particularly in the Coastal Bend area, 2-1-1 is also the number to call for elderly and disabled people needing evacuation assistance in the event of a pending disaster such as a hurricane. The role of libraries in information and referral including 2-1-1 has been considered with a case study in Mississippi,[1]

As of 2017, close to 95% of the population in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico and Washington, DC) has access to 2-1-1 services.[citation needed] More than two-hundred agencies, including United Ways, provide 2-1-1 services. The largest population without access to 2-1-1 is the metro-Chicago area. In 2017, the 2-1-1 network in the U.S. answered close to 15 million requests for assistance through phone, text, and web chat.


The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved the use of 2-1-1 throughout Canada on August 9, 2001. The first Canadian 2-1-1 service opened in Toronto on June 13, 2002. 2-1-1 services are free of charge and multilingual in Canada.

As of October 2020, the whole of Canada, including the territories, has had access to 2–1-1 thanks to a nationwide expansion, following the COVID-19 pandemic.[citation needed]

In Canada, 2-1-1 offers free and confidential information and referral for all non emergency needs.


2-1-1 center hours vary. Many are open 24/7 to refer callers to organizations that provide services in such areas as:

Where available, 2-1-1 is operated by a private non-profit community-service organization, local government or local United Ways, which are part of the broader United Way Worldwide network. 2-1-1 provides information and referral to callers on where to obtain assistance from local and national social service programs, local and national governmental agencies and local and national non-profit organizations as well as where to volunteer or make a donation locally. Referrals are often given from databases accessed by call specialists. These databases are maintained by 2-1-1 staff following stringent data management guidelines. The databases are typically local but in some cases linked together to form statewide databases.

Many 2-1-1 centers are exploring Memorandums of Understanding with state and federal governments to facilitate the efficient handling of future disasters. Television or radio stations could easily tell citizens to call 2-1-1 in the event of an emergency. Call specialists at these centers would be informed of current disaster plans or places to receive help and could then inform the public of the correct course of action. After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the Gulf Coast region, 2-1-1 centers were instrumental in coordinating with local government officials and providing information to communities before and after local disasters. Furthermore, 2-1-1 providers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida were called upon to provide assistance to individuals fleeing Puerto Rico's devastation.[2]


United StatesEdit

As of May 2017, the service is available in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. and 95% of the U.S. population has access to 2-1-1 services by dialing 2-1-1 on a landline or cell phone.[3] In 2017, the 2-1-1 network answered close to 15 million requests for assistance by phone, text, and chat.


In Canada, 2-1-1 is available in the following places (starting dates in parentheses). This list may be out-of-date; 2-1-1 service coverage is generally expanding over time.

Nova Scotia211 Nova Scotia

  • province-wide (February 11, 2013)

New Brunswick211 New Brunswick

  • province-wide (October 15, 2020)

Quebec211 Grand Montréal and 211 Québec régions

Ontario211 Ontario

SaskatchewanUnited Way 211

  • province-wide (September 2013)

Alberta211 Alberta

British Columbiabc211

The Windsor Star has reported on March 20, 2003, that Windsor, Ontario intended to have a 2-1-1 service up by 2009, as the Provincial Government allocated $311,000 to start it up, with much of the money being donated by the United Way of Canada, but had a set time limit on how long those funds would be available. On November 26, 2007, the City of Windsor's website announced that 2-1-1 service for Windsor and Essex County began, and was being run by the United Way (who also runs the local 3-1-1 service).

Plans to introduce 2-1-1 services are also in development in other Canadian communities.[6] Ontario extended 2-1-1 province-wide in 2012[7] and Nova Scotia's province-wide 2-1-1 deployment will be fully operational in 2014.[8] In British Columbia, 2-1-1 services are administered by bc211, and is available on Vancouver Island\Gulf Islands and in the Metro Vancouver, Squamish-Lillooet, Sunshine Coast Regional District and Fraser Valley and regional districts, with plans to expand the services provincially.[9]

In some communities, unused X-1-1 codes were assigned as plant test numbers for telephone installers testing individual lines. In the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, for instance, when 2-1-1 was dialed, it caused a busy signal to occur and the dialer's telephone line would "go dead" for several minutes afterward.[citation needed] These codes must first be "recovered" by moving the test functions elsewhere (958 and 959 are standard reserved local and long-distance test exchanges in most areas) to permit redeployment as local public information numbers.


United StatesEdit

The American accrediting body for 2-1-1 centers is the Alliance of Information & Referral Systems (AIRS). AIRS provides an accreditation process for 2-1-1 centers and certifies 2-1-1 Call Center Representatives as Certified Information and Referral Specialists (CIRS), Certified Information and Referral Specialists for Aging (CIRS-A) and Certified Resource Specialists (CRS) annually. AIRS standards have been created to provide a benchmark for 2-1-1 centers and its staff. The standards regulate nationally how a 2-1-1 centers provides services and how they collect and store information.

INFOLINE of Los Angeles, an information and referral services agency serving the greater Los Angeles area, developed a national taxonomy of human services that provides a standard language for information and referral providers nationally. AIRS adopted this taxonomy as its national standard for use in the field of information and referral. This taxonomy provides standard definition of terms, an exact coding structure for referrals and search methodology for providing referrals to consumers.

Accredited 2-1-1 centers must have active Memorandums of Understanding with local 9-1-1 service as well as domestic violence providers, elder care providers, mental health providers and local law enforcement.[10]


In Canada, professional certification is handled by InformCanada InformCanada - Fédération Inform Canada. The national 211 initiative is a partnership between InformCanada and United Way of Canada – Centraide Canada.

Work is underway to create a bilingual, Canadian Taxonomy of human services based on the AIRS/Infoline Taxonomy. This project is led by InformCanada and significant steps have been made on the creation of a starter taxonomy by the 211 Ontario phase 2 project, funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the government of Canada. Updates on the Canadian Taxonomy Project are maintained by 211.ca.[11]

Implementation processEdit

The number 2-1-1 must be captured and approved for assigning through the local telecom companies providing services in the local area. The process of implementing a 2-1-1 service in a community has taken many paths since its beginning in 1997. Some places have a centralized statewide system while others have decentralized regional networks with different types of affiliations.

In the United States, each implementation is monitored by the national accrediting entity Alliance of Information & Referral Systems (AIRS) and its local statewide affiliate.

In Canada, the deployment of 2-1-1 service is subject to InformCanada accreditation and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approval.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ McCook, Kathleen (2000). "Service Integration and Libraries: Will 2-1-1 Be the Catalyst for Renewal?" Reference & User Services Quarterly 40 (2): 127–30.
  2. ^ "United Way Storm Recovery | United Way of Greater Houston". www.unitedwayhouston.org. Archived from the original on May 18, 2018. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
  3. ^ "211.org". 211.org. Archived from the original on May 18, 2018. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
  4. ^ "Social services just a phone call away with launch of 211". CTV News Channel (Canada). April 26, 2018. Archived from the original on April 27, 2018. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  5. ^ "2-1-1 info line set to start". Ottawa Citizen. September 18, 2008. Archived from the original on August 21, 2009. Retrieved September 18, 2008.
  6. ^ "Help Starts Here - 211.ca". United Way 211 National. Archived from the original on June 4, 2019. Retrieved September 5, 2019.
  7. ^ "Where to Turn: Ontario 211 helpline goes province-wide". Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. Retrieved May 20, 2013.
  8. ^ "211 Nova Scotia". 211 Nova Scotia. Archived from the original on May 8, 2013. Retrieved May 20, 2013.
  9. ^ "bc211 -". bc211. Archived from the original on July 1, 2016. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  10. ^ "3-Digit Numbers in New York State · 411 NY". 411newyork.org. Archived from the original on December 21, 2016. Retrieved September 5, 2019.
  11. ^ "Canadian Taxonomy Project". Canadian Taxonomy Project. Archived from the original on September 20, 2018. Retrieved September 5, 2019.

External linksEdit