The Chicago Lighthouse Awarded Contract to Handle Calls to 999
The *999 motorist assistance program plays an important role in keeping Illinois motorists safe and traffic moving efficiently.
As of October 1, the responsibility for fielding *999 calls is with The Chicago Lighthouse, a social service organization that assists those who are visually impaired, disabled or military veterans.
“The *999 service is vital to quickly identifying and responding to roadway incidents with the appropriate resources and we are pleased to have The Chicago Lighthouse on board,” said Steven Mednis, general manager of traffic and incident management for the Illinois Tollway.
“Whether it’s a bed mattress lying in the middle of the road or a stalled vehicle on the shoulder causing a gaper’s delay, getting information right away helps us respond quickly so we can keep traffic moving safely and efficiently and reduce the risk of secondary incidents.”
Jointly funded by the Illinois Tollway and Illinois Department of Transportation, *999 allows motorists to use their cellphones to report roadway incidents that are not life-threatening or critical enough to warrant a call to 911. Most calls are related to traffic issues that block lanes or slow down traffic, like stalled vehicles, property damage incidents, potholes, roadway debris, flat tire or other vehicle problems.
The *999 service provides a 24/7 direct connection to roadway assistance for motorists using the Tollway system, expressways and arterial roadways in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area – Cook, DuPage, Kane, Will, Lake and McHenry – though the service reaches all 12 counties served by the Tollway in Northern Illinois. The service is intended to reduce the volume of calls to 911, where the priority is life-threatening situations.
The Chicago Lighthouse was awarded the contract through the State Use Program. This program provides long-term job opportunities for people working in not-for-profit community rehabilitation facilities. It benefits state agencies with high-quality products and services produced by state not-for-profit organizations at competitive prices and reduced administrative costs.
The Chicago Lighthouse is well-acquainted with the Illinois Tollway. Since 2013, it has managed the Tollway’s Customer Service Call Center assisting I-PASS customers through phone, email and the internet. In 2021, The Chicago Lighthouse call-takers assisted 1.3 million Tollway customers. It will operate the *999 call center at the same location at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but separately from the Tollway Customer Call Center.
The Lighthouse has been aggressive in preparing the take on *999, said Mednis. They were ready to hit the ground running in advance of the October 1 start date when they took over from the previous service provider.
Being well-prepared was necessary. Even though calls to *999 are non-emergency in nature, it’s still a fast-paced environment for call-takers. Most calls to *999 must be answered within 30 seconds.
Last year, call-takers answered more than 37,000 calls. Motorists call in with information about the nature of the issue, their location, nearest milepost and, if reporting a crash, the number of vehicles involved and a description of the vehicles. These calls are routed to dispatchers with the Tollway, IDOT, Illinois State Police, county sheriffs’ departments, local police and fire departments and other emergency responders.