Calgary: Strange Tales of 311

They answer more than 3,000 calls a day. During the summer months, that number can near 5,000.

So, it’s expected with that kind of volume a few loopy queries and chuckle-worthy interactions are bound to happen.

Sprinkled among the tens of thousands of satisfied customers, the always patient and knowledgeable 311 Agents have come across their share of head-scratchers.

Like the fellow who called in to check if he had any outstanding warrants.

Presumably, calling the police may not have gone his way. Or the lady who lived near Fish Creek and was tired of deer running across her back yard. She suggested the City put up a ‘Deer Crossing’ sign at the end of her street so the deer would know where to go. There’s the call about the aggressive pancake-stealing squirrel, complaints that a restaurant may be watering down its root beer and the classic: “Do I need to dial 4-0-3 before I dial 9-1-1?”

Manager of Citizen Services Clarke Bellamy says his team takes it all in stride.

“We have an amazing group of public servants whose primary objective with every call is to make sure we have met the citizen’s need to the absolute best of our ability,” said Bellamy.

“But that doesn’t mean we don’t get a giggle every now and then.”

A recent call around the holidays tapped the 311 brain hive’s culinary knowledge. A frantic caller dialed in to ask if it is OK to cook a frozen turkey in the oven or if it needed to be thawed and, if so, how long would that take? Well beyond the parameters of the agent’s job, she helped the caller out – and may have even suggested a Pinterest page or two for recipes.

The reliability and expertise of the City service has turned it into a Google of sorts. Questions normally reserved for a browser search make their way to Calgary’s busiest three digits every week. Questions like: “What is the distance between Mercury and Earth?” (It’s 77 million kilometres for those curious.) Or: “How do you get cat urine out of your carpet?” (Apparently, a vinegar/water solution is a good place to start.)

While the funny calls are good for a giggle, they make up an infinitesimal amount of the serious inquiries that come in every day.

The 311 team responds to citizen inquiries and assigns City crews based on these requests. Everything from Roads issues to Animal Services, bylaw rules to hours of operation for City services. They also assist City business units by providing trends and performance tracking information. If something is happening in Calgary, they are usually the first to know.

There is a 311 Live Map where citizens can track where work is being done or check on the status of service requests. The 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation also offers support in more than 200 languages through its translation service. They are available by mobile app, phone or online.

Bellamy says he knows his team members will always go out of their way to help – even if the questions may have little or nothing to do with their primary function of ensuring a well-run city through timely action on citizen concerns.

“We are all Calgarians and I think it’s in our nature to help out wherever we can,” said Bellamy.

“So much important work gets done through this service that, if we have to deal with a few queries that are a little whacky, that’s an OK price to pay.”

Source: City of Calgary