Virtual Driving Seat

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Best Practices

EMD Alyssa Brawley started her shift at the General Motors’ OnStar call center, Charlotte, North Carolina (USA), telling her co-advisors a story that not only highlighted the benefits of emergency dispatch but, also, evolved into part of a training program that cuts to the quick for new hires.

Brawley was driving to a cookout and—without hesitation—swerved to the side of the road at the scene of a car and moped collision. The force of the impact swung the moped and its rider across the street from each other, and the rider wasn’t moving or able to acknowledge her voice. Brawley yelled for someone to call 911 and because of her background knew without question how to administer CPR.

Brawley’s tale struck Ruby Hilton as something Emergency Dispatchers might not even realize about what they do. Hilton is the EMD business performance lead for OnStar, which means she oversees performance, quality control, and training OnStar Emergency Advisors (the title GM’s OnStar applies to its Emergency Dispatchers). Brawley’s instantaneous actions impressed Hilton. Brawley applied CPR that complemented instructions she provides over the phone to callers in a similar situation. In addition to the ability to give assistance, Brawley realized what it’s like for callers she helps over the phone.

“It’s about connection,” Hilton said. “We get caught up in the process and need to remember these are real people and real situations. This might by your hundredth traffic accident for the week, but for the caller it might be their first accident ever and, for them, it’s their worst day.”

Brawley’s reaction to the incident led to internal conversations among the advisors. Had anyone else in the center experienced a situation that hinged on their work? They spoke up. Abusive relationships. Near drownings. Choking. Cardiac arrest. Hilton adapted their tales for training videos.

The first video related to the moped and car collision emphasized the ability for non-medically trained civilians to intervene in emergency medical situations, when given appropriate instruction.

For the second training video, Hilton borrowed strategy from the Super Bowl 2015 PSA addressing domestic violence and sexual assault. According to the ad, the caller indirectly informed the emergency dispatcher that she was in harm’s way without alerting the alleged attacker by pretending to order a pepperoni pizza.

Hilton believes the message conveys the significance of situational awareness or the ability to take in relevant information about an event to understand it and take effective action. Situational awareness in emergency dispatch is particularly complex because of the remote nature of a call for help. “You might not catch everything that’s going on with the caller, but it’s important that you remain sensitive and listen for cues,” Hilton said.

The third scenario was a reenactment of a near drowning. Advisor Zoya Chung and her sister were at risk of drowning at the beach when the current drifted them away. Remarkably, someone seeing the crisis from the beach dived into the water and rescued them.

The lesson may not be what you think. The incident alerted Hilton to high-acuity/low-frequency calls, such as Protocol 14: Drowning/Near Drowning/Diving/Scuba Accident. “This was a reminder to practice these protocols because you never know when you will need them and, when you do, practice makes it so you know how to handle them.”

Hilton said the videos drive home the point of what they do, especially to new hires. “This is serious business they’re getting into,” she said. “I also want them to connect [with the callers]. I want them to realize that how they say something can affect the caller’s response to them.”

Hilton, formerly a cosmetologist, wanted a career change, followed up on an ad, and in 2011 was hired as an OnStar Emergency Advisor. During her 12 years at the Charlotte call center, she has performed various functions associated with her role as business performance leader, a title encompassing everything from procedures and policies, certification, outreach, their medical Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) status, and their current drive for EFD and EPD accreditations.

OnStar’s Emergency Advisors provide members with assistance for medical emergencies or personal safety situations in or out of any vehicle.

“We are there to help at the push of a button, and I like that about us,” Hilton said. “But like all communication centers, we need to hire and train people for what happens to callers in real life.”