With stories about the Zika virus beginning to appear in North American news media, some non-profit helplines and information and referral centers are already receiving inquiries about the illness. Though there have been no confirmed cases in the continental US* or Canada, confirmed cases in nearby countries south of the US and in the US territory of Puerto Rico have many beginning to ask questions about the virus, especially since these areas are popular travel destinations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released information about the virus which could be shared with those who are concerned. This information includes:
While unpleasant, symptoms are typically mild and becoming severely ill to the point of hospitalization is uncommon, and death resulting from the illness is rare.
For the full contents of information from the CDC which may be helpful to your constituents, visit the CDC’s Zika Virus webpage.
*Since originally posting this blog, confirmed cases have begun to emerge in the US. Authorities have confirmed a case where the Zika virus was contracted sexually, and others who contracted the virus, likely from a mosquito, while traveling.
Categorizing your resources can help your staff and volunteers find appropriate resources for those in need. Rather than searching for a resource by name, they can search by a category and be presented with a list of resources matching that search term. The list of categories is completely customizable, and for those using the AIRS taxonomy, please note you can use both the taxonomy and custom categories if you wish.
To turn on the custom category feature in iCarol, follow these steps:
- Click Admin Tools in the left hand menu
- Click the Resources Tab
- In the AIRS/211 Taxonomy section, click the box next to “Uses Categories as well as 211 Taxonomy” to place a check mark there
- Click the “Save all settings” button at the top of the screen
Once the feature is turned on, the next step is to create a list of custom categories. It may be useful to review the resources currently in your resource database to determine what category names to use that would best represent the kinds of services those resources offer. Please note, this tool can be used to create just one list of categories, and it can also be used to create a list of categories with sub-categories.
To create a custom category, follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Click Manage Resources in the upper right hand side of the screen
- In the second column, click “Customize your keywords”
- Click “Add a new keyword”
- Fill in a Name for the category. A description and a rank for the category are optional.
- Before clicking Save, on the left hand side of the screen, place a checkmark either beside the option that says “Assign to the top level of your hierarchy” if you want the category to be in the top level of your hierarchy, or beside the name of a category already created, to make the new category a sub-category of that one. For example, in the screenshot below, “Youth” and “Matrimony” are sub-categories of Counseling.
- Click the Save button
The final step is to assign categories to your resources. There are two ways to do this. The first option is to search for a specific resource you want to assign categories to and edit it. Follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Search for the resource you would like to assign categories to
- When you receive the list of search results, click “Details” on the resource you would like to edit
- Click the Edit button in the upper right hand corner
- Scroll down the page to the Categorization section
- Click the link “Assign this resource to categories. For those who also use taxonomy, please note that this link will say “Assign this resource to taxonomy” but it will be used to assign both taxonomy and categories
- A pop-up box will appear that will show the categorization hierarchy you have created.
- Click the boxes beside the categories you would like to assign the resource to. This will place a check mark in the box
- At the top of the pop-up box, click the “save selection for this resource” button
- You can then close the pop-up box and the resource record will update to show the categories assigned
- Click “Save” or “Save and view resource” at the top of the screen
The second method to assign categories to resources is to use the “Assign resources to categories” tool. Follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Click Manage resources in the upper right hand corner of the screen
- Click “Assign resources to categories” in the second column
- Use the filters at the top of the screen to create a list of resources to assign categories to
- Once the list of resources has been generated, click the “Assign” link next to the name of the resource. This will bring up the hierarchy of categories you have created.
- Click the boxes beside the categories you would like to assign the resource to. This will place a check mark in the box
- At the top of the screen, click the “save selection for this resource” button
- The resource you just added categories to will disappear from the list of resources as your categorizations have been successfully saved.
- From here, you can click Assign beside the next resource and repeat the steps above
Once categories have been created, and resources have been assigned to these categories, one can then search by these categories. Searches can be conducted either by typing a category name in the search box and clicking the Search button, or by clicking on a category name in the category hierarchy that will appear on the resource search page. For example, the search depicted below was generated by clicking Cancer Type, and then Breast in the category hierarchy to generate a list of resources that provide services related to breast cancer.
If you have any questions about using categories in iCarol, please submit a case to the iCarol Support Team.
Beginning in 2011, when the Unites States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.
Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services. I&R services come in all shapes and sizes, from crisis lines that provide their local community with a core set of human service referrals, to larger scale 2-1-1 centers and statewide 2-1-1 networks providing comprehensive Information and Referral services to entire states or provinces covering many different topics and types of services.
Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.
The people who work these lines are consummate professionals who are often times like living, breathing encyclopedias; providing answers to questions ranging from, “Where can I get a free meal for my family” to “There’s a horse running loose in my neighborhood, who do I call?” We at iCarol are really honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, or text.
If you’d like to learn more about what iCarol does to support efficient referral management, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features. You’re also welcome to join one of our regular webinars that focuses solely on our Information and Referral tools. We hope you’ll join us sometime to learn more.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need!
The 211 Taxonomy is one of the ways you can categorize your resources in iCarol. It’s a highly detailed set of over 9,500 various terms and an extremely precise, structured way of saying what services each resource provides. The Taxonomy is most used by 2-1-1 centers and other Information and Referral agencies, as its use is an essential part of AIRS accreditation. And when you subscribe to this feature in iCarol, you get to benefit of our regular updates such as migrating resources from terms that have been retired to active ones.
Taxonomy users in iCarol can import their own Taxonomy “filters.” These custom taxonomy filters are administered on the 211taxonomy.org website and anyone with a subscription to this site can download them at any time. The filters are a subset of the full taxonomy and allow you to deactivate a large number of taxonomy terms at once.
There are a few different types of filters available on 211Taxonomy.org. A couple filters are officially released by 211 LA County, distributors of the Taxonomy. Some others were created by other subscribers and set up to be shared.
Importing a filter can be useful when you want your taxonomy customizations to match those of the other entities using the taxonomy who have shared their filter on the site. Using these filters also gives your organization a starting point for the Taxonomy, rather than needing to pour over the 9,500 + terms to decide which your helpline wishes to employ. Applying these filters in iCarol was previously possible, but required help from our support team. Now we’ve put the control directly into your hands.
This tool to import a custom Taxonomy filter, available to Admin users only, can be used by taking the following steps:
- Download your custom filter from the 211taxonomy.org website. The file will be a .xml file.
- In iCarol, click Resources > Manage Resources > Customize the taxonomy
- Scroll to the bottom of the page to the “Admins only – Import a custom taxonomy filter” section (non-admins will not see this)
- Click Browse and select the XML 211Taxonomy file
- Click “Delete all existing taxonomy customizations in my iCarol system and import this new filter”
- You will receive an email notification when the new customization has been uploaded and applied to your system.
Please note that by using this tool, all existing taxonomy customizations in your iCarol system will first be deleted. Proceed with extreme caution and be absolutely certain you wish to proceed before going through the import process.
We recently added a few cosmetic improvements to resource searching that add clarity to your search process as well as save you some time.
First up, the list of automatically suggested terms, whether you use Categories or Taxonomy or are searching by Resource Name, is more clearly defined with lines separating the items while the term you’re hovering over will be highlighted in blue.
Next, page numbers of search results appear not just at the top of the results list, but also at the bottom. So if you’re scrolling down to the bottom of your list and then need to go to page 2, you don’t have to scroll back to the top to move to the next page.
And finally as you assign the resources as given referrals, the main search page will reflect that with a “Referral made” note at each resource that has already been assigned as a referral. The ‘Referral made’ note will also appear while on the details page of that resource record.
These are just a few small tweaks but we hope they’ll make a positive impact on your work flow by saving you some time as you navigate through the referral search and assignment process.
September is considered the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, but disaster can strike all year ’round and in all regions. Earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, tornados, floods, super storms – all areas have seen their share of destructive events.
Non-profit helplines play a large role in any community’s disaster plan. Local governments often partner with these helplines and advertise their contact information during disasters as a place to contact for non-emergency information and referral. Information about shelters, emergency food or water drops, road closures, and shelter-in-place tips, are just a few examples of the information that these helplines can relay to the public in a local emergency.
The availability of such services in times of disaster is crucial – they serve as a way for residents to get much needed information and listening support, while also reducing the burden on local government and diverting non-emergency calls away from 9-1-1.
Providing this service presents unique challenges to helpline staff, but iCarol offers a number of solutions to reduce the stress of being there for your community during emergencies.
Benefit from Partnerships
During a disaster helplines in a region often need to work together to coordinate response. Some disasters may force one or more local helplines to close entirely, or at a minimum a helpline may be short staffed. Using iCarol you can easily share responsibility for managing call/text/chat volume and resource maintenance by using our collaborative options.
We’ve discussed in previous posts how you can build chat or text networks using iCarol, and such a collaboration would come in extra handy if your center needs to shut down or simply offload some traffic during a disaster. And most phone systems allow for the easy transfer or forwarding of calls.
With Call Report sharing capabilities, forms used by one center can be set up for use by another helpline in the event calls, texts, or chats are being routed elsewhere. By setting up these shared forms, the original call center can be certain that the center answering calls is filling out all the necessary information and collecting the essential data as if the call was being handled by the original center. You’ll still be able to review the forms and collect statistics on those calls handled by your partner.
Collaboration is not just limited to call reporting forms, however. Helplines can also share a database of community referrals and resources with other helplines so that in the event of an emergency, these helplines can access resources not just in their own community, but elsewhere in the region. Further, helplines can partner together to not only access this database to give referrals to help seeker, but can also share in the responsibility of editing these resources.
Collect Essential Data
In the event of a disaster, helplines will likely have specific data they wish to collect on those disaster-related calls, as well as needing a way to separate those calls, chats, or texts from others that may ring through to the center. It’s also very common for local governmental and other agencies to request this data from the helplines so they can monitor the needs of the community and respond accordingly for this and future events.
The key to collecting data in iCarol is found within the customizable report forms you fill out for each client interaction. Using the robust form editing tools, staff can add necessary questions and other fields for data collection when needed, so as soon as the disaster-related calls come in they are ready to collect the necessary information on the form. Staff can also use this capability to create a simple checkbox where call takers can note that the call was related to the disaster event, which will help identify these calls during statistical reporting later.
When it’s time to report on the helpline’s calls, staff can run various spreadsheets, reports, and charts. Results are available in real-time and can be filtered based on whether or not the call was related to the disaster, making it easy to run reports specific to the event, excluding unrelated calls.
Offer Alternative Channels
Offering alternative channels becomes especially important during a disaster. Phone lines may be down or it may be easier for people in need to text you during these trying times. Plus the mobility of texting means that someone can reach out to you from anywhere, even if they’ve been displaced from their home.
With iCarol you have complete control over when your messaging service is available, so you can very quickly create a shift and open up your channels as needed. You could even have a special portal specifically for disaster that has its own special report form that collects all the necessary information. And remember with Messaging you can offer all the same referrals and run the same statistical reports as you would for phone calls.
Increase Your Bandwidth
An emergency in your community means your volume could increase, so reaching your volunteers and staff is important. Inside iCarol you can promptly send out an email blast or mass text to alert your staff and volunteers of information they need to know, or ask for additional staffing. Quickly adjust your shift calendar to accommodate more open spots and assign your workers to shifts on the fly.
If you’d like to specifically track disaster staffing, consider creating new shifts and naming them accordingly for easy reporting. Analyze the hours worked for use in future planning, or to apply for future grants or compensation that may be offered by local governments and other organizations.
iCarol can be reached from any internet connected device, so you could explore work-from-home options for disaster staffing. You may wish to temporarily turn off any restrictions in place for which computers can access iCarol, or grant certain staff the ability to certify their home computers.
Provide Critical Information and Referral
During any sort of emergency, information could develop rapidly and change throughout the event. As your resource managers receive information from the various community agencies or collect information released by your local government, they can respond quickly. Update resource records accordingly, or create new ones with just a few clicks. Use the iCarol News area to post the most up-to-date information; it’ll be front and center when your volunteers first sign on so they won’t miss the latest updates.
Much like we mentioned earlier with alternative channels, a disaster could mean that even more people are seeking information in alternative ways. Help seekers likely want self-service options to find resources. This is where your Public Resource Directory comes in. Visitors to your website can use an embedded search of your live resource database right on your website to find what they need.
You can even quickly add highlighted resources during a disaster event to point your visitors right to the information and resources they need. You can also set up advanced, guided searches that are both visually appealing and direct your community to the right resources
Our API is another option for referral sharing, giving you and your developers access to your resource data so it can be used in whatever ways you see fit, such as creating a home built web directory, mobile apps, and more.
Providing assistance to your community during a disaster is a lot of work, but having so many time-saving tools integrated in your helpline software will take some of the stress out of the event, and your seamless response will prove that your helpline is an invaluable resource in your community. And even if your center doesn’t use iCarol, I hope this blog has sparked some ideas for how your helpline can plan ahead and more easily provide services when your community needs it most.
We recently added the ability for clients to customize which details of resource records are displayed in the search results list. This provides additional information to users, without having to open the resource record by clicking details.
Fields that may be included are:
- Coverage Areas (may slow performance)
- Application Process
- Languages Offered
- Hours of Operation Note
- Closest Site, or Location Description
The last setting “Closest Site, or Location Description” will be included in the results when a city value has been chosen from the Geographic Filters on the resource search page, and when the Program is linked to a ProgramAtSite record with location information.
Here is an example of a resource search results list without any of the above additional fields added:
Here is the same search with all of the available additional fields chosen:
If you would like to turn on any of these options, please submit a case via the online case submission tool.
The team had a blast in Dallas for this year’s I&R Training and Education Conference organized by the Alliance of Information and Referral Services (AIRS).
The weather was a big topic of conversation at the conference, as torrential rains, storms, and severe flooding wreaked havoc on the region in the days prior to the conference. In fact our developer, Spike, who attended the conference shared this image of the flight path towards the end of their flight into Dallas on Tuesday night. Just as their flight was cleared to land, the airport closed due to the storms and their flight was diverted to Tulsa where many others were also sent. It took several hours before they could get from Tulsa to Dallas. Getting there was an adventure for many conference goers due to the storms, but was ultimately well worth it.
And since disaster response is a component of the work of many 2-1-1 and I&R agencies, many attendees whose centers are located in the region had to split their time between attending their sessions and regularly checking in with staff at their call center. It was a great reminder of the never-ending and important work happening in the industry.
The conference was very centrally located in downtown, within a mile of interesting museums like the Dallas Museum of Art and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza which examines the life, death, and legacy of JFK.
Crystal noted that the local art scattered throughout the area was impressive, “I loved the art all around the city, the hotel had an interesting mural painted all along one side. Outside a little pizza shop, walking distance from the hotel, there was a really interesting bronze statue of horses, and everywhere you looked there was art beautifying the area. Art was everywhere!”
There was plenty of opportunity for fun while in Dallas. Several iCarol team members and helpline staffers took in a Texas Rangers game one evening which was a lot of fun.
We also found a delicious Mexican restaurant located about a block from the conference. YUM. Here we are again with a variety of folks from both our team and the industry chowing down.
The fun and games were great, but we accomplished a lot professionally as well. The iCarol Usergroup session was well-attended. For those who haven’t attended one of these sessions before, we use this as an opportunity to speak with iCarol users and provide a synopsis of the major enhancements that have been deployed over the last year.
Crystal’s session, “Taxonomy 102: How to make taxonomy customization decisions, and policies to consider” was popular among resource managers and the audience was really engaged! Be sure to keep an eye on the AIRS networker for the presentation if you’d like to check it out. Whether you use iCarol or another software vendor, please check into your Taxonomy capabilities and options for more information on how you can apply what you learned.
For more great photos from the conference, check out the album shared by AIRS. Our team would like to thank everyone who stopped by to say hi, attended a session, or engaged with us in any way while at the conference. We had a terrific time!
Crystal and Neil are dusting off their spurs and cowboy hats – they’ll be in Dallas for the Annual I&R Training and Education Conference, held by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS), May 27 – 30th.
There are some special events we’d like to note, first that Crystal, who is a specialist in Taxonomy and I&R, will present a workshop titled
Taxonomy 102: How to make taxonomy customization decisions, and policies to consider.
Here’s the description of the session, which falls in the Resource Database Track:
So you understand the basic concepts of indexing records using the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy, but what comes next? Join us in discussing how to make Taxonomy customization decisions for your organization, and more importantly your resource database. Analyze a database and choose levels to index records. Learn the difference between horizontal and vertical indexing, and how to avoid these common indexing misadventures. Explore the different schools of thought on target terms, and work towards developing your own targeting policies. This session is intended for Resource Database staff with a basic understanding of indexing using the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy.
We should note that Crystal’s session is not iCarol-focused, it is educational and will be helpful to Resource Database staff regardless of the software solution used by their helpline. You can join her session on Saturday, May 30th from 10:45am to 12:15pm in the Dallas Ballroom B, 1st Floor, Conference Center.
There will also be an iCarol User Group session on Wednesday May 27th from 2:00-3:45 in Majestic 5, 37th Floor, Center Tower. The User Group session is aimed at leaders and staff at organizations who use iCarol so they can learn about our latest updates and ask questions. If your helpline would like to learn more about iCarol, whether you’re a current subscriber or not, you’re certainly welcome to attend.
Of course while in Dallas we’ll also be welcoming visitors to our booth (201) in the exhibitor’s hall. We’re looking forward to talking with everyone there in hopes of telling others about the iCarol solution, and welcoming more I&R centers into the iCarol family. If you plan to be at the conference and would like to chat with us, please !
Note: This blog describes a process that helps you or your web developers create guided searches of your iCarol Public Resource Directory. While this is still relevant to users of that version of the Public Resource Directory, as of July 3, 2017 a new version of the Public Resource Directory includes a built-in Guided Search builder. Learn more…
Passing parameters from your website to your Public Resource Directory (PRD) is a great and easy way to help guide your users to helpful resources. This feature is included in the Public Resource Directory add-on at no additional cost.
Guided searches can save time, help your users find what they need, and if you use the 211 Taxonomy, can help improve your statistics by encouraging exact Taxonomy searches. Webmasters can pre-load the Public Resource Directory public search page by sending search parameters in the URL hyperlink.
A current example of a client who does this is http://montana211.org/. They put a custom search box on their main page, which was developed by their webmaster. When a search is conducted by a PRD user, they generate a URL for the resulting page. Not only can search terms be passed to the Public Resource Directory (PRD), but other search filters such as location can be passed to the initial search.
Another client who uses pre-populated searches is http://www.211oc.org/211oc-guided-database-search.html. The guided search enables the public users to choose a general category, and then presents them with a list of more specific categories. Once a more specific category is chosen, the public resource directory is pre-populated and the user is presented with a list of appropriate search results.
Basic PRD URL vs. Populated URL
Example of Basic PRD URL:
This link will open the PRD in a new tab/window, with empty search criteria. A user will then have to enter a search term, choose geographic filters to refine their search, and initiate the search by clicking search (or choosing from the drop down list).
Example of a populated PRD search URL:
This link will open the PRD in a new tab/window, but will include populated specific search criteria. iCarol will also complete the query before the page loads for the user, removing the extra step of clicking “search”. The user can change any of the filters or search terms to further refine sequential searches.
How to read the Populated URL
The parameters are passed within a defined section of the URL, and by programming the hyperlinks from your website to the pre-populated URL, you can pass these criteria to the PRD. Search parameter starts with the field name, includes an equals sign (=), then includes the parameter value to pass. Each parameter is separated by an ampersand (&).
You can get the populated URL by completing a search in your PRD system, and copying the URL from the address bar. For a more dynamic approach, your webmaster can use text boxes or drop down boxes to help guide a user’s input.
Understanding Available Parameters
Org – Org is your Organization number, the unique number used by iCarol to represent your system
Country – Geographic Filtering for Country
StateProvince – Geographic Filtering for State or Province
County – Geographic Filtering for County
City – Geographic Filtering for City
PostalCode – Geographic Filtering for Zip/Postal Code
pst – [Coverage | Physical | All ] – Filter resources based on coverage area (“Resources serving”), physical location (“Resources within”), or omit this parameter to use your systems default.
Search – [Food] – Is the actual search term you want to find using the filters above. This can include the name of a specific resource, a general concept or phrase, or be specific such as a customized category or taxonomy term.
Sort – [Alphabetical | Proximity] – Is the sort order that the results will display in.
NameOnly – [True | False] – Set your search type to “Search Names” or “Search All Fields”, or omit this parameter to use your system default.
If your organization wishes to use this feature, or if you have any additional questions on how to use it, please submit a case to the iCarol Support Team via the Online Case Submission Tool, found in your Help menu.