Pandemic or hurricane?

For some 2-1-1s, the surge of calls they received in the first weeks of COVID-19 probably felt familiar. The 2-1-1s serving coastal regions of the southeastern U.S. are critical to evacuation and emergency response during hurricanes, with call volume often surging up to 2-3 times normal rates before and after these natural disasters. With Hurricane Sally striking Alabama on September 16, we had a rare opportunity to compare the impact of a pandemic and hurricane in the same state and same year. We evaluated 99,137 requests received by 2-1-1s in Alabama from January 1 to October 12, 2020. The chart shows total requests for each day during that period, and marks the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 11) and Hurricane Sally (September 16). The period of peak impact of the pandemic appears to last longer than that of the hurricane, although the day with the highest number of requests occurred during the hurricane. Prior research suggests that after hurricanes, call volume at 2-1-1s returns to normal levels within 2-3 months. Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, that has yet to happen. Data for these analyses came from 2-1-1 Counts, a daily tracking system of social needs in Alabama. Mouse over each bar in the chart to see the number of requests received per day.

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