DETROIT -- As Harvey, the hurricane turned tropical storm, lingers above southeast Texas and Louisiana, local emergency responders remain overwhelmed with calls for help. To cope, they are asking General Motors subsidiary OnStar, including call centres in Canada, for assistance.
"We are assisting the Red Cross with overflow calls. It's something they asked us to do because we have the expertise," said Cathy Bishop, OnStar's global emergency services manager in Detroit. "But given all the tragedy down there, we are trying to act as one team and not draw lines as to who's doing what. We have leveraged capacity across all of our call centres to be of assistance."
OnStar has four call centres in North America -- in Michigan, North Carolina, Ontario and Nova Scotia -- with 50 administrators and more than 300 call takers. All the centres have been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week since last Thursday, Bishop said.
"We have unlimited overtime open to make sure we have appropriate staffing levels," Bishop said. "Our advisors are seeing this as a privilege to support people in this crisis event. We've had an overwhelming response of people wanting to be picked to support these callers."
OnStar is also helping take evacuation requests as local 911 centres were backed up due to heavy call volumes. OnStar worked with local emergency leaders on a system whereby OnStar customers could call OnStar, which would then alert the local 911 system of rescue requests via email if the caller was not in immediate danger.
OnStar, which sells subscription-based in-vehicle communications with live operators, has about 200,000 customers in the areas impacted by the storm, Bishop said. Since Saturday, it has taken more than 18,500 calls related to the storm, she said.