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 a new feature to iCarol that allows users to set their preferred language on the Volunteer and Staff member profile. This Preferred Language setting controls how date and currency values are displayed throughout iCarol. Previously this was typically controlled by your web browser language settings, however our new Preferred Language Settings within iCarol allow for more control and consistency while using our application.
There are three primary options including:
- Date: MM/DD/YYYY (eg. 4/12/2015 = April 12, 2015)
- Currency: periods (eg. $299.00)
- Date: DD/MM/YYYY (eg. 12/4/2015 = April 12, 2015)
- Currency: periods (eg. $299.00)
English (Great Britain)
- Date: DD/MM/YYYY (eg. 12/4/2015 = April 12, 2015)
- Currency: commas (eg. £299,00)
For our clients elsewhere in Europe, Asia, and Australia, you are welcome to choose whichever format above aligns best with your business practices.
Volunteers and Staff can change their Preferred Language Setting. The preferred language can be changed directly by the User, or by an Administrator. To make these changes, take the following steps:
Note: By default all new users are created with English US as their preferred language.
1. Log into iCarol
2. Click on “Vols – Staff” from the left menu
3. Navigate to the User profile to update, click on the users “First Name”
4. Click on “Edit” on the User Profile
5. Navigate to the “Profile” tab
6. Update the “Preferred Language” setting
7. Click “Save”
Admins can change the system setting for Regional Formatting for Exports. Exported information from iCarol requires a system default for how to format data in exports. Here’s how you set those controls:
1. Log into iCarol as an Admin
2. Click on Admin Tools
3. Click on the Setup tab
4. Navigate to the Regional Formatting for Exports section
5. Change your preferred language to receive data exports in
6. Click “Save all settings”
NOTE: The system setting for Regional Formatting for Exports does not affect the default that users are created in, all new user will default to English US (as it’s the first in the list).
Now you can begin choosing what date and currency formats your users will see when using iCarol, as well as how those formats will appear in Exports. If you have any further questions about this, please contact our support team.
Peanut butter and jelly. Chocolate and caramel. Peas and carrots. Some things just go well together!
We love it when we can make features in iCarol work well together, too. Take Automated Resource Verification and the Public Resource Directory as an example. By themselves they each have a specific and valuable role to play with your referral management. And these two features are now working together in new and exciting ways!
As you’re already aware, help seekers like having self-service options, like searching online for resources. Having a Public Resource Directory (PRD) means you can embed a live search of your iCarol resource database right on your website for easy access by the public. And of course there’s lots of flexibility and control over what is seen by the public and what isn’t.
But help seekers aren’t the only ones using your PRD. Staff at your local community organizations are likely going online to check out your resource directory to see what you have listed. If they see something that’s incorrect or needs an update, they could call or email you. If you use Automated Verification, you could then send them a verification request that lets them quickly and easily see what you have on record, make suggested updates, and send that back to you so you can review and update records with the click of a button.
But let’s see if we can simplify that process even further: Now, when you have both the Automated Verification and the Public Resource Directory features enabled in your iCarol system, you have access to an advanced feature that allows Resource record verifiers to initiate a new verification request directly from their Resource records in the PRD.
On your PRD, for resource records that include an email address in one of the available email fields of the record, the public will see a disclaimer on the details page of the Resource record that asks:
The public user has to fill out the security captcha, then click the button below, and this tells iCarol to send the verification request using the template and settings you’ve specified (See below for more on that). The request will be sent to the email specified on the resource, requesting a review. And if a record does not have an email then the disclaimer, captcha, and email button will not appear at all for that record, so verification Requests cannot be initiated.
When someone in the public initiates that verification request on your PRD, your staff with the “Resource verification requests from service providers” setting enabled on the Notification tab of their profile will receive an email.
And the resource verifier, depending on the email on record and the saved Automated Verification settings, will receive an email with their unique verification link.
So, how do you get this to work for you? Well first, you must subscribe to both Automated Verification and the Public Resource Directory. If you want to start subscribing or just want to learn more about these features, please contact our support team. Not using iCarol yet? Please contact us for a demo and free trial!
If you already subscribe to both of these features, setting up this advanced tool is a snap. Just take the following steps:
1. On the PRD settings page, make sure that the highlighted setting below is checked, and click the Save button.
2. In your Automated Verification settings, create a new email template that will be used for these PRD initiated requests, and check the box for “Use this template to email users on the Public Resource Directory when one of their saved records is updated” before saving the template.
3. Choose the Automated Verification settings you’d like to apply to all the PRD initiated requests by either finding an existing Automated Verification Request where suitable settings were chosen, or create a new request and set it up how you’d like all PRD initiated requests to be set.
4. Use the ‘Saved Settings’ tool to save these settings for PRD initiated requests. Make sure you check the highlighted setting before clicking the ‘Save’ button.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you are all set up! Now if someone visits your PRD and notices that their resource record is due for an update or needs a correction, they can easily initiate the request and receive the link to update their records. Not using the PRD or Automated Verification yet? Or maybe you’re using one, but not the other? Contact us today to get both of these features working together to boost your referral service!
In a world where so much is accessible 24/7, people have grown accustomed to getting what they want when they want it, no matter the time of day. But providing a service ’round the clock is tough, especially for a non-profit. If your helpline is like most others, you’ve had to make some choices about when to offer certain services, particularly for new channels like texting. You’ve probably carefully thought things through and analyzed the information available to you, weighed it against your budget and staff availability, and come up with a realistic schedule for your texting service.
But there’s that nagging voice in the back of your head, asking you if your service is online and available at the right times. You’re asking yourself questions like:
“Did I choose the right hours of operation for my texting service?”
“What kinds of texts are coming in when my service is offline?”
“How many of those people might be in crisis?”
“At what times are these texts being sent?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see the content of text messages your service receives during your offline periods? Guess what: You can!
We’ve added a report to Statistics that allows you to see information about texts coming in to your center during hours where your texting service is offline. It’s easy to find and use.
Start by clicking on Statistics in the left main menu, then click on the Messaging tab.
You’ll see there are already a number of various reports you can run on your SMS service. Under “Choose a report” select “After hours SMS” from the drop down list. Simply select the date range you wish to evaluate, then click “Go.”
The resulting chart shows each text received during your offline hours. It includes the date and time the text message was received, the Portal (if applicable), the visitor’s phone number, and the content of the message they sent.
Please note that we’ve truncated the phone number for the purposes of this blog, but when you run an actual report you’ll have access to the full 10 digit phone number. Of course you can Export this data to Excel and analyze it further.
This report will help tell you what kinds of texts are being sent to you after hours, and at what times. By tracking this information, and evaluating what days or times experience the most traffic, you can start to get a picture of where there is a demand for more availability. This information should serve you well if you are applying for additional funding to expand your service hours.
Donna and I recently returned from the National Council on Problem Gambling‘s annual conference, and we had such a great time!
This year’s conference was held in beautiful Baltimore, Maryland. Since I’m from Maryland and still live there, I was quite excited about attending this conference. It’s always fun when so many people from all over the country or world are visiting, perhaps for the first time, a place with which you’re quite familiar. I had a fun time all week sharing little tidbits about my home state with people from out of town.
And, if you ever travel to Baltimore I highly recommend the hotel where the conference was held, the Baltimore Hilton right across from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Perfectly centrally located for all sorts of fun activities in the city including baseball or football games, and the world famous Inner Harbor. Plus the conference rooms and all the accommodations for the conference were top notch.
Check out this photo taken from my room as the sun sets over Baltimore.
In the center of the photo is the Baltimore Convention Center, just to the lower right of that is the famous Otterbein Church, and if you look just above the Convention Center you’ll see the Inner Harbor in the distance. Like I said, centrally located!
We were invited to attend and present at the pre-conference Helpline Symposium. This was an exciting opportunity to show many of the NCPG affiliates all around the country how iCarol chat and text works. iCarol is the provider for NCPG’s national text and chat lines, so when a chat comes through that website or a text comes through that national text number, it will be routed to an affiliate center based on routing criteria like availability and location. So, as affiliates choose to come online and be part of that national chat and text network, we’ll be ready and delighted to help get them set up on iCarol. It’s another great example of the networks and collaborations that can be built using iCarol. We hope to bring you more information about this network and how it’s growing as time goes on.
Here’s Donna presenting information about the national chat and text network. Special thanks to Robyn from the Louisiana affiliate and Amy from the National Council on Problem Gambling, who helped us do a live demonstration!
The Helpline Symposium was a great chance to hear from affiliates about their experiences. A number of really interesting topics were discussed, such as marketing challenges facing the industry. Coming up with effective, consistent messaging, and increasing visibility and awareness of problem gambling issues, as well as promoting where people can get help, were all among the topics this engaged and energetic group discussed.
We sure did have a great view from our conference room where the symposium was held, check out the beautiful scene just out the window of Oriole Park at Camden Yards where the Baltimore Orioles play.
Throughout the conference the culture of Maryland was on display in the best of ways. We caught one of Maryland’s famous crabs hanging out with a volunteer during the symposium break!
Of course networking and spending time with friends is a highlight of any conference. We took in a delicious dinner at Dempsey’s located right across the street in the Camden Yards complex. Here’s Donna (center) with industry friends Robyn and Mary posing just outside the ballpark.
Before we knew it, it was time for the welcome reception. What a great event! The baseball theme was tons of fun, everyone was wearing jerseys representing their favorite teams. But it gets better — the food was ballpark themed too! Soft pretzels, popcorn, crackerjacks, a sliders station, and it wouldn’t be an event in Maryland without some crabcakes! We got to visit with so many wonderful people from various parts of the industry, too, since the exhibitor’s hall was all set up, where our booth was located.
While we’re talking about the reception, I’ve got to give a huge shout out to the hosts of the conference, the Maryland Council on Problem Gambling and the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling (University of Maryland School of Medicine). Every detail was so great, from the food to the accommodations to the conference rooms and session spaces and fun activities. What fabulous hosts they were!
The conference kicked off the next day with a great keynote by psychiatrist Dr. David Mee-Lee, who has worked for years as an expert in addiction both substance and non-substance related, as well as co-occurring conditions. It was a really engaging keynote with lots of comic relief via Dr. Mee-Lee’s slideshow.
The breakout sessions were highly informative. I attended sessions on a variety of topics including veteran gambling addiction, gambling addiction as it relates to mental illness such a schizophrenia, and new technologies being used in video gaming units at casinos. I plan to bring you more detail on those interesting topics in the coming months.
Another fun networking event was the Friday evening trip to the American Visionary Art Museum in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore. Fun fact: Just two miles further down the street from the museum is Fort McHenry, where Marylander Francis Scott Key witnessed a battle in the War of 1812 and wrote a poem which would later become the lyrics to the United States’ National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner! See, I told you I enjoyed peppering people with facts about my home state!
While no photos were permitted within the museum, I encourage you to check out their website. It was an extremely unique, thought-provoking place unlike any art museum I’ve been to before!
Next door to the museum was a reception area with more yummy food (four words: crab mac and cheese!) where we took in an exhibit specifically about problem gambling, with pieces of art by students, people in recovery, and family members of problem gamblers.
This was a particularly powerful piece titled “Losing Hand” by artist Jennifer L. Walsh, who experienced the effects of problem gambling through her own mother’s addiction.
The caption reads:
“Losing Hand: Why Gamble When You’ve Already Won” is an image of a losing hand of poker. The player’s hand in the foreground is holding five cards, each with an image of what they have accomplished or gained in their life and what they are actually losing when they gamble.
The Ace of Hearts is the last card in the hand and is slipping out of the thumb’s grip, signifying the loss of family due to the habit.
We had a fantastic time at the conference and enjoyed meeting so many of you in the problem gambling industry. If you didn’t get a chance to chat with us at the conference, please check out our website and contact us for more information on iCarol Helpline Software. Or, feel free to attend one of my regular webinars to get an idea of what we’re all about!
We’ve enhanced a number of our features and opened up some new tools to your system Admins in recent weeks. Here’s a bit of a review.
Caller Profiles – We covered this in detail in an earlier blog, but to review, we’ve added some new tabs to your Repeat Caller Profiles that give you new tools that allow you to:
- Track recent referrals given to that caller
- List the follow-ups scheduled for that caller
- Track Public Resource Directory activity by a registered user via a Repeat Caller Profile
SMS Settings – For our clients who have multiple SMS portals, you can now adjust various settings for each portal. This is newly opened to Admin users as previously the iCarol Support and Technical Teams needed to make these types of changes for clients who have more than one portal. When you arrive on the SMS Settings page, be sure to select the correct portal from the drop down menu.
Once you select the proper portal you can edit things like:
- Your initial auto response – which should explicitly ask the visitor to give permission to text them as well as offering the “Opt Out” instruction
- Welcome message – if you’d like to send an additional auto message after the initial permission/opt out message
- Waiting in queue message – something to send to the visitor as they wait for the counselor to join
- Offline auto response – the message the visitor receives when they send a text but your agency is offline
- Pre-written messages – save your workers from having to type the same standard messages over and over again
Advanced Hyperlinks – Anywhere you find a Rich Text editor in iCarol (When editing the “Help Tip” text in a Call Report Form, or Description of a Resource Record, for example) you now have a bit more advanced hyperlinking tools.
- Choose your link type – URL vs. Email
- Choose your target – Will the link open in the same window, a pop up window, etc.
- Set other advanced settings
Resource Settings – We’ve opened up LOTS of settings for you under Admin Tools -> Resources that previously only our Support team could change for you. Just a few examples:
- Decide if you’d like to use a record type called “ProgramAtSite”
- Assign Coverage Areas to Site and ProgramAtSite records
- Choose which record types can be given as referrals
- Decide to hide the “Make Referral” button from your search results, i.e. you can only use the “Make Referral” button when viewing the details of a record
- Choose certain fields to display in your resource search results in addition to what is shown by default
This is really just scratching the surface, and many of these settings have Help Tips which will give you more information on how to use them. Of course if you have questions about how to use any of these enhancements, please do reach out to our Support team for help.
Donna and I are pleased to announce that we’ll be in Baltimore representing iCarol at the National Council on Problem Gambling Conference in July!
As the Chat and Text provider for the National Council on Problem Gambling, we’re looking forward to meeting representatives from various state affiliates, as well as the other service providers who’ll be attending the conference. We’re especially excited to be kicking off the pre-conference Helpline Symposium with our own presentation and demonstration of iCarol.
If you’re planning to attend the conference we’d sure love to hear from you so we can schedule some time to connect while in Baltimore. Please plan to stop by our booth or we’d love it if you would to us ahead of time so we can schedule some time to chat with you!
As we’ve discussed in our recent webinar and white paper, an important aspect of staying compliant when texting is to ask permission of the help seeker, and to put in a STOP message to enable texters to opt-out of text conversations. As a result, all U.S.-based organizations should have their first, outbound text message configured similar to the one below:
“[Name and location of organization] Welcome! Do you give your consent to text you? Reply yes to continue, STOP to cancel. Message & data rates may apply.”
We’ve made it easy for you to set it up in iCarol. Here’s how:
1. Select ‘Messaging’ on the Left Hand Menu
2. Click on the SMS/Texting link on the upper right hand side of the screen
3. Look for “Settings for SMS”. There will be a new pull-down menu for your portals. It will automatically be set for “default”. Select the portal for which you wish to configure the message. If you only have one, there should only be one named choice in the pull-down list.
4. Your first, automated message to the texter can be configured in a new field, labeled “SMS Initial Message.”
5. Once you’ve configured the message, click the Save Settings button at the bottom of the screen.
Don’t forget that SMS messages have a maximum of 140 characters in the U.S.! Many organizations use abbreviations for some of the wording. You may have to play with your initial message configuration to get it under the character limit.
Note that future updates to the iCarol system will include making the Initial message field a required one for U.S.-based organizations. This will help ensure you don’t forget to configure the message.
For any questions on the configuration options, please contact Support via the Help Page within iCarol.
We recently added the ability for clients to configure 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.
So you’ve decided to add Texting to your Helpline’s service. Great! But how do you go about picking a number for people to reach you via text? And how will you advertise this new channel?
When you offer your services via Texting with iCarol, you can choose between a 10 digit number, or a short code. Either is allowed by the regulatory entities, so the choice is up to you. But what if we told you that you may already have the perfect number?
For helplines in the US and Canada it’s highly likely that you can text enable your existing 10 digit or 1-800 helpline number. That means that rather than adding on a new number, you can accept texts on the number where you already accept calls. We have several clients doing this already with much success. There are many benefits to going this route.
- Parallel your advertising – When the number is the same for texting or calling, it’s easy to align your marketing efforts, saving you time and money.
- Simplicity in messaging – Think of how clear your ad or website will look with a message like “Text or Call us at 1-800-555-HELP” rather than giving out two separate numbers. Cut through the confusion — there’s just one number to remember for either mode of communication.
- Reach more people – Your helpline number is already well known to your community. Offering the ability to text this same number could increase the likelihood of people remembering it and using it, which can result in greater traffic to your texting service.
- Your phone service is unaffected – Keep your voice service exactly as is with your current phone provider — enabling texting on this number won’t change your original voice channel.
- People may already be texting you – That’s right — we’ve had clients text enable their helpline number to find that when texting is turned on, before any advertising of the text service happens, that people are already sending texts. Texting is such a common and accepted mode of communication these days that many people assume they can call OR text you on the same number.
There is a process to go through to set up your existing helpline number to also accept texts, but we’d be happy to help you through the steps. today to get started!