OnStar Assisting With Hurricane Harvey Emergency Communications

With cell phone and landline networks disabled, GM's subsidiary is pitching in to help.

2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Disasters like Hurricane Harvey push communication systems to their limits and often beyond. Between exceptionally high demand and issues like damaged cell towers and flooded landlines, people in trouble may not be able to contact the emergency services they desperately need. While amateur radio operators are hard at work supplementing the crippled networks, another, unexpected network is proving useful: OnStar.

Automotive News reports the various ways that GM's location and emergency communication service is helping customers in the Houston area keep in touch when all else fails. With local Red Cross call centers overwhelmed with calls for help, they asked OnStar to assist. OnStar's four North American call centers are located in Michigan, North Carolina, Ontario, and Nova Scotia—far outside Harvey's reach and unaffected by the storm. It is also already equipped and trained for these types of calls, so OnStar is a natural choice to help. But it is not strictly providing OnStar services to Red Cross overflow calls; OnStar is integrating with the Red Cross as closely as possible to get callers the services they need, regardless of who provides them.

But some people who have cars equipped with OnStar have found them to be their only contact with the outside world. With no power or cell service, OnStar's satellite network has been the only way some people have been able to call for rescue. Others have taken advantage of OnStar's Wi-Fi capability to maintain digital contact with the outside world, informing others that they are safe. Removing some of this "health and welfare traffic" from the amateur radio networks frees them up to focus on more time-sensitive and emergency communications.

With high demand for services in the affected areas, OnStar call centers have been operating around the clock since last Thursday. Unlimited overtime is available to all who want it, both for the extra money and to do their part to help people who need it.