As a massive snowstorm battered New York on Jan. 27, 2011, a record 276,881 people called that city’s 311 line, according to an online presentation by Saadia Chaudhry, the call center’s director. On Aug. 28 of that year, when Hurricane Irene hit the city, the center took 237,638 calls.

Many local governments have put 311 services at the heart of their strategies for emergency preparedness and disaster recovery. Of course, call volumes on ordinary days are much less dramatic.

Donald Stickney, 311 director in Minneapolis, who conducted a survey of 39 non-emergency government call-in services in 2011, found that a center generally gets one call per year for every resident in its jurisdiction. What makes that so odd is that typically fewer than 20% of the people in a city or county actually use the 311 service in a given year.

“Here in Minneapolis, we have a population of 380,000, so we expect about 380,000 contacts,” Stickney said.

Because “311” is so easy to remember, government call centers that buy the right to use that number from their telephone carriers get more traffic than centers using seven-digit numbers, said Cory Fleming, senior project manger, 311/CRM technical assistance at the International City/County Managers Association (ICMA).

“Usually the usage is anywhere from 25% to 30% higher if you’re actually using 311,” she said.

Usage volumes, whether generated by phone or by other channels, also may depend on how effectively a city or county publicizes its service. “There’s a whole marketing piece behind this; that’s a big part of 311,” said David Moody, vice president of marketing solutions at 311/CRM software developer KANA in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Richardson, Texas, which developed its own “issue system” in house about four years ago, receives only about 1,000 reports or requests per year, said Steve Graves, the city’s chief information officer. That might be because the service offers help with only a limited number of issues, he said.

As more city departments join the system, Graves said, he expects more residents to use the expanded service. “I could see [the call traffic] going to anywhere from 500 to 1,000 a month.”