University of Extrication: Vehicle Telematics Systems

In Part 1 of this series, fire/rescue and medical responders were introduced to how the OnStar telematics system functions and learned about the Injury Severity Predication information that OnStar Advisers can provide to responding personnel through our local communications centers. EMS personnel must note how significant it is that OnStar has the ability to predict the probability of severe injury to vehicle occupants, our patients, even before we arrive on scene. This telematics information may allow appropriate additional advanced life support (ALS) resources to be dispatched to the incident scene in a timely manner. Now, in the final part of our discussion of the OnStar telematics system, we look at OnStar’s additional capabilities and how Public Safety responders may take advantage of this technology to improve fire, rescue and medical operations involving OnStar-equipped vehicles.


Collision event

Among the 150,000 calls that OnStar Advisors receive each day, an average of 15,000 calls are for life-changing events such as vehicle collisions or medical emergencies. With GPS location technology and direct connection to the vehicle occupants, OnStar Advisors are virtually “on the scene” even before we get the call to respond. Through their telematics system, they can provide local communication centers with the exact location of the incident, initial vehicle occupant information, as well as technical information such as the Delta V (change in velocity over time) and the principal direction of force (PDOF). The Advisor can advise responders if there were multiple collisions and even if it was a rollover event. Using multiple redundant systems for voice and data transmission such as a backup transmitting battery within the OnStar unit, multiple cell towers, re-routing and re-try systems and the human connection of the OnStar Advisor, the robust OnStar system gets this critical information to the local communication and dispatch centers where it is needed by responding personnel. Language line capabilities are also available through the OnStar system when a language barrier exists between the vehicle occupant and the local communications center.


Missing or not readily

visible vehicle

In situations where a vehicle crashes and goes off the roadway where it might not be readily visible, the OnStar Advisor has the ability to flash the lights on the car as well as sound the horn so responders may better locate the vehicle. Prior to arrival at the vehicle, OnStar can also unlock the doors, making access to injured occupants quicker and more efficient. By using a very sophisticated aerial imagery software system, the Advisor is shown the terrain and general topographical features around the vehicle’s location.

In one well-documented case in Troutman, NC, responders worked with OnStar to find a patient trapped in a vehicle that had gone off an interstate highway and virtually disappeared from sight in the middle of the afternoon. In this instance, OnStar provided the dispatch center with the highway mile marker so responders knew exactly where to go. While enroute, fire personnel were notified that there were multiple impact points, the car was possibly off the roadway and that the driver was non-responsive. According to Troutman Fire Department personnel, the vehicle was found wedged about 120 feet straight down a ravine because of the accurate information provided by the OnStar Advisor.


Door unlock

With General Motors (GM) vehicles that have OnStar systems, the OnStar Advisor can automatically unlock vehicle doors in the event of a child locked inside the vehicle. The organization Safe Kids Worldwide has been tallying fatal incidents where children have been left in cars since 1998. They count 550 cases nationwide where a child has died from hyperthermia or heat stroke while in a car. In 2010, at least 51 children died; in 2011, there were 33. The children have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years old, though more than half are 2 years old or younger. On average, OnStar performs 67,000 remote door unlocks each month; the majority being unoccupied vehicles whose owners left their keys in their locked vehicle. Child unlocks, however, are also included in this number.

After dispatching emergency responders, Communications Centers that receive citizen calls for a child locked in a vehicle should query the caller to determine if the vehicle is a GM product as it may be possible to have the doors unlocked remotely by OnStar prior to the arrival of emergency personnel. By calling 1-888-4ONSTAR, an OnStar Advisor can send a remote signal that can unlock the vehicle. With a child locked in a vehicle, a matter of seconds can mean the difference between life and death.


Subscriber services

OnStar participates in the AMBER Alert notification system. This means that when an AMBER alert is issued by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) network, any one of the more than six million OnStar subscribers can push their red emergency button and report suspicious activity or information related to the missing child quickly to public safety authorities. OnStar Advisors can also provide users with traffic advisories for road closures and incidents, wildland fire situations, hazardous materials incidents requiring streets to be shut down as well as weather updates and advisories.


OnStar Command Center

When a natural disaster occurs, a special facility called the OnStar Command Center follows the events as they unfold. The Command Center is a secure facility located in downtown Detroit, MI, that is staffed 24 hours each day by highly trained communications and technology personnel. It is a modern, technologically advanced operations center that resembles NASA’s Mission Control center. The tiered facility is surrounded by computer consoles and has large screen displays showing everything from weather to data about OnStar call volumes to a fascinating map of North America. From this location, OnStar personnel monitor calls received and oversee the operation of the entire OnStar communication network. When a disaster hits, the OnStar Command Center personnel monitor the events in real time. They provide information to their OnStar Advisors so they can relay evacuation routes and locations of services such as shelters, food or gas stations to OnStar subscribers.


Crisis Assist

In the aftermath of the catastrophic tornado that struck in May 2011, Joplin, MO, lost much of its street signage. OnStar, by using its aerial imagery technology, was able to provide exact locations to responder personnel in GM vehicles who otherwise were unable to identify their locations due to the devastation. Called “Crisis Assist” OnStar provides open services to subscribers during these tough times. When interacting with an OnStar subscriber in a personally urgent situation, OnStar can direct how to travel evacuation routes and even provide lodging information for the displaced.

The world of vehicle telematics is here today as seen with our look at the OnStar system. From knowing where the vehicle is to being able to predict the likelihood of injury, telematics offers much to make the work of communications personnel and public safety responders safer and more efficient. Together with providers such as OnStar, the public safety community can better serve our customers in their time of need. n