In the not-too-distant past, 911 systems in U.S. cities were overwhelmed by costly and time-consuming non-emergency calls. They ranged from frivolous (citizens upset that their pizza hadn’t been delivered) to legitimate concerns that didn’t require an immediate emergency response, such as potholes, illegally parked cars or dumped trash.

In 1996, Baltimore decided to do something about the problem. The city launched the country’s first 311 non-emergency phone hotline, a pilot project supported by a $300,000 Department of Justice grant.