University of Extrication: Vehicle Telematics Systems

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...


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We’re about five seconds into the emergency call as dialogue between the OnStar Emergency Advisor and vehicle occupant continues. By this time, yet another box on the Advisor’s console has filled in with collision data: direction of impact, change in velocity over time (known as Delta V) and whether there is a high probability of severe injury to the occupants. If the subscriber has the OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle) aftermarket mirror unit installed, the Advisor knows that a collision occurred, subscriber information displays, along with the exact location, and audio communication is through the internal wireless system with the two-way speaker/microphone in the vehicle.

Just as any call-taker at a communications center would be expected to do, the OnStar Advisor confirms the vehicle’s exact location and determines through questions to the vehicle occupants if there are injuries and if emergency services are needed. If there is an automatic crash notification and occupants are unconscious, the OnStar Advisor uses the automatically generated data and OnStar’s proprietary database of PSAP (Public Safety Answering Points) boundaries to notify the local agency 911 center that has jurisdiction.

Now, about 20 seconds into the call, the EMS side of OnStar’s system can kick in. An additional Emergency Advisor, certified in Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) through National Academies of Emergency Dispatch(NAED), will join the call and speak directly with the OnStar customer to provide EMD medical assistance while the first Advisor contacts the 911 center with jurisdiction for the incident. Using the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) protocol, this second Advisor can provide pre-arrival medical assistance to the patient prior to the arrival of first responders. At the same time, the first Advisor clicks her mouse to place the emergency call directly to the appropriate 911 call center. OnStar’s computers draw from their database of over 6,500 PSAPs in North America – within seconds. The Advisor provides the 911 operator with the vehicle location and description, specific crash info and any information obtained by the second Advisor providing EMD.

At this point, approximately 60 seconds since the call was received, the second Advisor remains on the line continuing to provide medical care information to the injured occupants until first-arriving fire, medical or law enforcement authorities confirm their arrival. At the discretion of the local PSAP, the vehicle occupant can be conference-called in to speak directly with the local dispatcher. The first OnStar Advisor, who answered the initial call, remains on the line as well in a supporting role and can call the 911 center back if circumstances change.

If a language barrier exists, OnStar’s in-house Spanish- and French-speaking Advisors can be connected to provide help or the Language Line can be contacted to provide support in other languages. TTY services are also available 24/7.

In addition to location data that can be reported to your dispatch center, the OnStar Emergency Advisor may be able to verbally offer the 911 call taker the following critical data on severity and type of crash for most OnStar-equipped vehicles:

• Airbag status (deployed?)

• Delta V (i.e. change in velocity)

• Direction of impact

• Whether there were multiple impacts

• Whether vehicle may have rolled over

• Injury Severity Prediction

Medical responders will be interested in learning about the Injury Severity Predication information. When the OnStar Advisor provides your local 911 center with Injury Severity Prediction information, it is a result of the findings of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expert panel. The OnStar Advisor can inform the 911 call taker if there is a high probability of severe injury to vehicle occupants based on electronic crash data received from the GM vehicle. This data is automatically processed through a mathematical algorithm that has been well researched over several years, yielding OnStar’s prediction of the probability of severe injury to occupants, allowing responders to send the appropriate resources to the scene. n

In Part 2, our final column on the OnStar telematics system, we will look at additional capabilities of OnStar and how public safety responders may take advantage of this technology to improve operations involving OnStar-equipped vehicles.