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In the Introduction to OnStar column (see the October issue), we were provided with an overview of this vehicle communications system owned by General Motors (GM). In this column, we will take a closer look at how the telematics system works and what information can be provided to public safety responders.
Imagine that as you are responding to a vehicle crash call, you know all the important details of what happened before you even arrive. How nice would that be? You know if airbags deployed, whether it was a head-on, side-impact or rear-end crash. You know even before you are on scene if the vehicle rolled over, if occupants are still inside and if there are injuries. Better yet, you are being dispatched to the exact location where the vehicle is.
In addition, imagine that your communications center personnel right now are speaking directly to the injured persons, and that they are gathering additional information as you are responding. All this is reality today if the vehicle involved in the crash is a GM vehicle with OnStar and your communications center personnel are familiar with and trained to interact with OnStar Advisors during emergency calls such as this.
To make all this technology work involves satellite GPS vehicle location equipment, a roof-mounted vehicle antenna, wireless carrier connectivity and a two-way speaker/microphone. Although there is a primary wireless carrier used by OnStar as a default, OnStar’s robust system automatically will seek out other available wireless systems if needed to complete the emergency call.
This author had the opportunity to sit with the OnStar Emergency Advisors at the Warren, MI, call center to listen in as the “human connection” is made between the caller and the specially trained Advisor. Among the 2,500 Advisors who are working in the three North American call centers at any one time, each location has Advisors who handle strictly the emergency OnStar calls. Besides being experienced OnStar Advisors, these specially selected and trained individuals undergo 15-plus weeks of training as Emergency Call Advisors before they begin answering emergency calls on their own. The additional training includes Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) courses.
It does not take long before one of the over 400 emergency calls that will be received in any given day comes in. With the flash of a red icon on the Emergency OnStar Advisor’s console, the emergency call is received and answered; one second of time has elapsed. The display screen tells the advisor whether it is an automatic crash call or a manual red emergency button press. My first call to monitor was an automatic crash notification call so as the Advisor is still saying her opening line: “OnStar Emergency, are there any injuries?”, a companion portion of their computer console has automatically zoomed in and pinpointed the exact location of the vehicle, within three meters of accuracy in the U.S. and most of Canada.
The subscriber information has also displayed now along with the make, model, color and fuel type of the vehicle, if it is a GM product. The OnStar Advisor can use Microsoft Virtual Earth™ technology – a 3D aerial imagery mapping and imagery system that can help accurately guide first responders to hard-to-find or remote locations. Just think how many times as a responder, you have had to search to locate the crash scene and the vehicles involved because your dispatch center had been given incorrect or inaccurate information based on passerby or Good Samaritan phone calls. With this telematics system, your dispatcher can direct you to where the vehicle is.