Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Every Once In A While, Technology Works

With Gustav bearing down, this time with people decided to get out of Dodge with an ample amount of warning, technology came through in the form of Onstar. I have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of technological "toys" in the car, but apparently sometimes things actually do what they're supposed to, and even a little more.

Drivers Rely on OnStar to Evade Hurricane GustavThousands of Gulf Coast Drivers Seek Help From GM's OnStar While Fleeing HurricaneBy TOM KRISHERThe Associated PressDETROIT For the most part, the callers were calm, patiently asking for the fastest path out of New Orleans or some other Gulf Coast city as Hurricane Gustav twisted its way to the northwest.They started calling General Motors Corp.'s OnStar service by the thousands early Saturday, and by Sunday, their numbers had grown to well over 3,000 per hour."There's a lot of people that are stranded on the evacuation routes," said Brad Williams, a service manager for the automaker's motorist help line who was overseeing OnStar's response from a command center in Downtown Detroit.As more than 2 million people tried to outrun the deadly storm, OnStar beefed up its staff to around 500 and put emergency plans in place at three call centers in Pontiac, Oshawa, Ontario, and Charlotte, N.C.Managers expected Sunday's calls to reach 75,000, about double the number on a normal Sunday.The storm calls are sent to specially trained OnStar advisers, many of whom were on duty during Hurricane Katrina."They're more prepared. They know what questions have been asked," said Williams.The advisers were armed with computerized maps, databases of hotels with vacancies and even locations of Red Cross emergency shelters, Williams said.All day, callers asked for the closest hotel with vacant rooms. They asked OnStar to find loved ones who were on the road. But most of all, they wanted to get around the clogged Interstate evacuation routes."They don't want to get on the major highways because they know traffic is at a standstill," said Kim Dupee, a senior adviser in Charlotte who spent much of Sunday directing people out of metro New Orleans. "It's steady. The calls don't stop."Advisers reported that most callers were calm, leaving well in advance of the storm. Governments and drivers, they said, were far better prepared for Gustav than they were for Hurricane Katrina.Unlike Katrina, they said, there were few calls about gas stations running out of fuel along the evacuation routes. OnStar managers also had to prepare for more calls than during Katrina, because the service has grown from around 3 million subscribers to more than 5 million, Williams said.As the storm moved closer to the coast, advisers were preparing for more panic calls, people unsure of where to go when buffeted by heavy winds and blinding rain with roads closed due to flooding and downed trees.Before she loaded up two daughters, an aunt, her sister-in-law and a niece to get out of Pearl River, La., north of New Orleans, Cyndy Nobles got into her 2007 Saturn Vue and called OnStar, figuring the operators would know the best way to get to the safety of a relative's house in Meridian, Miss."They have the most updated information with the traffic situation and so forth," said her husband, Robert, who stayed behind to ride out the storm at home.Their home, about 25 miles from New Orleans, is just outside the mandatory evacuation zone, Robert Nobles said, but they figured it would be best for the mother and daughters to head for a safer place. His parents and brother had decided not to leave, so Robert stayed behind in case they needed help.Cyndy Nobles was given a route that included two Interstate highways, but the operator assured them it was best, Nobles said. Along the way, one of the interstates jammed up, so Cyndy had to take a different route. She made it to Meridian in 6 1/2 hours, more than double the time it ususally takes, he said.By Sunday evening, OnStar was telling people that most hotels were booked up in areas along the Gulf and even as far inland as Dallas. They were routing drivers to hotels in Kentucky and Indiana."People have to travel pretty far away because everything's booked up in the affected states," said Mary Ann Adams, OnStar's crisis incident manager in Detroit.For Mo Crane, owner of Mo's Chalet lounge in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, there was no crisis Sunday. He was staying put to guard against looters, who he said did $250,000 damage to his business after Katrina.He called to add minutes to his OnStar cell phone, which the service says has better coverage than standard cell services because it transmits from a car rooftop antenna rather than a hand-held phone.And although he's only a few miles from Lake Pontchartrain and near the Mississippi River, the 72-year-old businessman is more worried about looters than Gustav. Katrina, he said, didn't damage his building, so he figures he's safe inside."The last time I left here...they looted my place terribly," he said. "I just didn't want them to loot it again."Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

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