A measure meant to strengthen the release of information to New York state residents during a disaster is heading to Gov. Kathy Hochul's desk. 

The bill approved by state lawmakers this month would activate the 211 information hotline and referral service during a state disaster emergency. At the same time, lawmakers approved adding the chief professional officer of 211 to a gubernatorial commission that oversees disaster preparation.

“Our residents need to know they can get all of the information they need in a timely manner during a state of emergency, and this legislation will ensure that the 211 helpline is a go-to resource in this regard,” Sen. Peter Harckham said. “And by giving 211 a seat at the table with the governor and pertinent state agencies during a disaster, people will be helped more quickly and connected to the assistance and answers they are looking for.”

Harckham, who sponsored the measure with Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, said the bill dovetails with current law that requires the timely release of information to the public during a disaster. The measure approved by lawmakers this month requires the release of that information through a state referral service like the 211 number. 

The 211 hotline was initially developed as a way of providing access to New Yorkers with human services. But it has also shown to be useful during snow and ice storms as well as floods. Most recently, the number was used to provide information to New Yorkers during the COVID pandemic as a non-emergency source. 

“211 is an invaluable community asset,” Lupardo said. “They are available 24/7, providing vital information and referral services to New Yorkers across the state. They play an especially critical role during states of emergency and recently helped communities through the pandemic. This legislation will ensure that 211 receives the recognition they deserve by including them in the state’s emergency response plan.” 

The state spending plan in April previously included a $400,000 increase in funding for 211, bringing its budget to $2.4 million. Lawmakers hope the additional funding will help develop 211 as a statewide resource for services as well as a centralized website for inquiries.