An Oshawa call centre helped victims of Florence. Here’s how.

Site leader Amanda Bruce stands across the hall from the Emergency Department at Concentrix OnStar in Oshawa. Photo credit: Kathryn Fraser

On the shores of Lake Ontario in Oshawa, a call centre is doing the unexpected – saving lives, thousands of kilometres away.

Concentrix, formerly known as Minacs, helped victims of Florence, the hurricane-turned-tropical storm, in the Carolinas, by taking Red Cross calls and connecting people with emergency services.

We’ve really taken an all handson deck approach to help the citizens of the U.S.,” said Amanda Bruce, the site leader of Concentrix Oshawa, which is involved with providing OnStar services for General Motors vehicles.

When Florence made landfall in the United States Sept. 14, the company leapt into action, Bruce said.

General Motors got the call to assist the Red Cross and Concentrix willingly jumped in,” she said.

Bruce said Concentrix has partnered with the Red Cross in the past. The Red Cross receives many emergency calls and to help balance the volume, calls are transferred to Concentrix employees in Oshawa, the only Canadian site to handle American calls. (The rest are taken at Concentrix sites in Michigan and North Carolina.)

A team of approximately 65 emergency advisors in Oshawa took on Red Cross calls, crisis calls and emergency calls. Navigation advisors handled evacuation routes, road closures, finding grocery stores and shelters, Bruce said.

“They’re very much an elite team,” she said. “Everybody is trained to be on their toes every single time.”

Bruce said safety is the number one priority for Concentrix and GM. Crisis Assist, an initiative created by GM, allows GM drivers to access emergency assistance, even if they don’t have an OnStar membership.

“We open up the services to provide the customer with everything they need,” said Bruce. “So, if its a route, if they need to call a loved one, we’ll provide complimentary data.

OnStar connects customers with additional services which provide information on helping with the financial information they need to recover from Florence, said Bonnie Tytler, the global connected customer experience Canadian contact centre manager.

“We actually support the Red Cross with (Federal Emergency Management Agency) FEMA which is financial aid,” she said. “We’ll help track that and get people into the database so they know what they’re up against from a financial aid perspective.”

Tytler said Concentrix was prepared for Florence. However, each hurricane poses new threats and changes to safety guidelines.

“We learn as we go,” she said. “We learn from what we implemented last year to what we’ve implemented this year.”

Emergency Team Leader Jennifer Hoffman said the employees were were much more prepared to deal with Florence.

“We were training people well in advance, staffing extra people because we figured something like this would happen,” said Hoffman.

When Crisis Assist is active, Hoffman said open services can even be accessed by cellphone, as opposed to a vehicle’s Bluetooth phone system.

“We provide updated weather information,” said Hoffman. “We provide data to help people be able to look at things on social media, we make phone calls for them. The main rule is that we don’t leave someone alone until we know that they are safe.

Taslima Gulshan, an emergency advisor, said answering calls is sometimes challenging and emotional.

“A lot of these people who are calling in have lost sometimes family, lost their homes, pets or they’re injured,” she said. “Sometimes they call in saying ‘I am in my house with the water level up to my counter and I’m standing on my counter while talking to you’.”

I am in my house with the water level up to my counter and I’m standing on my counter while talking to you.

“If [emotion] affects you, you can’t really help them,” Gulshan said. “You have to put it to the back of your head. It can happen to anyone.”

Even though most of hurricane calls were transferred to the Oshawa site, Kurt Leatzow, the senior director of telematics, said it’s bigger than Canadians helping Americans.

I think it’s bigger than that, I think it’s people helping people.

“I think it’s people helping people,” said Leatzow. I think no matter where you’re born, where you’re from, what country you may claim to represent, during times of need and crisis everybody reaches out with a helping hand. I think it’s a great partnership and it’s a great story that the human spirit overcomes whatever your geography is or whatever your country of residence may be.”