OnStar 101 

OnStar 101 

Learn how OnStar works with First Responders

OnStar has unique features designed to get the right help to the right place in an emergency. 

The basics of OnStar

Understand the basics of OnStar

OnStar offers Members with paid memberships 24/7 access to specially trained Advisors. These Advisors communicate via a three-button, in-vehicle system that relies on: 

  • GPS positioning 
  • Cellular wireless connectivity 
  • Voice and data technology 

The red Emergency button provides a priority connection to an OnStar Emergency-Certified Advisor.* After triaging the call, the Advisor may contact an Emergency Communications Center (ECC) based on the incident location. The Advisor can provide the ECC with the exact GPS location and can request fire, police or medical support be sent to the location of the emergency. 
GPS and cellular wireless connectivity 
OnStar-equipped vehicles are fitted with external cellular and GPS antennas for omnidirectional coverage. This means the signal is not likely to be blocked by pillars or a roof the way they can be with handheld mobile phones. The GPS antenna generally has a clear line of sight to GPS satellites, while the cellular antenna generally has good connectivity to a cell tower. 
The OnStar system is embedded and factory-installed in most vehicles, so it’s available and ready to connect to an OnStar Contact Center, assuming power and a cellular signal are available and the service plan and OnStar hardware are active. 
Additionally, OnStar understands the challenge that ECCs face in determining the location of a mobile 911 call — but the OnStar Guardian® app* can help: 

  • In a crash or emergency, getting the right help to the right location is essential 
  • The OnStar Guardian app uses GPS data that provides the ECC with a caller’s location 
  • This data offers more precise location information than a cellphone tower ping

OnStar Emergency-Certified Advisors

OnStar Emergency-Certified Advisors are trained extensively to handle all types of emergencies, are EMD-certified by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED), and our OnStar Call Centers have achieved the designation of Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE). In medical emergencies, Advisors can provide directions to the nearest hospital, perform EMD and provide pre-arrival instructions until First Responders arrive and take over care. 
The OnStar EMD process is handled in parallel by two OnStar Emergency-Certified Advisors: 

  1. An Advisor receives an emergency button-push or an automatic crash incident, quickly determines the nature of the emergency, verifies the location and conferences in a second Emergency-Certified Advisor to provide EMD, if needed. 
  2. While the second Advisor provides EMD, the first Advisor simultaneously contacts the ECC to report the emergency, verifies the jurisdiction and provides the location with a brief description of the incident. The two Advisors will coordinate with each other and the ECC to obtain any additional information required to facilitate the appropriate dispatch of assistance to the scene. 
  3. The second Advisor will remain on the line until First Responders arrive, and the first Advisor may re-contact the ECC with updates, as needed. 

OnStar has a designated medical director for protocol guidance.

OnStar tools and technologies

Location is everything 
OnStar understands the importance of having the precise location of an incident before dispatching emergency resources. GPS, embedded in-vehicle systems and enhanced location from smartphones provide the location of our callers with street names, alternate street names, latitude and longitude and aerial imagery. 
OnStar's mapping data also contains proprietary digital boundaries for primary ECCs across North America to ensure Advisors contact the ECC with jurisdiction for the incident.  We update our map data and ECC jurisdictional boundaries and contact information to stay current with changes, and encourage ECCs to contact us with any recently made changes via email at: 
Priority access and telephony 
In the United States, OnStar has the ability to deliver emergency calls to the ECC via the 911 trunk lines. This means verified emergency incidents get to the ECC more quickly and reliably.  This method of call delivery is consistent with other emergency calls received at the ECC. 
OnStar uses the existing VoIP 911 call and data delivery process to expedite these calls. OnStar calls are telematics-based, not VoIP-based, but OnStar utilizes the existing VoIP-to-ECC infrastructure to minimize any impact on ECCs. OnStar also utilizes the telematics class of service (TLMA), where possible, to provide more context into the call as it arrives at the ECC. 
ANI/ALI screens may vary slightly from ECC to ECC because the information is presented using the local exchange carrier format. If there is a discrepancy with the display, please alert the Advisor who will follow up with the database group.  
Any problems, boundary changes or test-call requests can be sent via email at: .  


OnStar has many resources to assist in emergencies, including: 

  • Extensive emergency training and EMD certification. 
  • Access to GPS location and aerial imagery to assist public safety locate emergency incidents. 
  • OnStar's proprietary ECC jurisdictional database to ensure our Advisors know the correct agency to contact. 
  • Priority Access to Public Safety: OnStar calls are coming in on 911 trunk lines with ANI/ALI display as OnStar Call Center, our dedicated public safety call-back number of 1.866.866.5006, and the latitude and longitude of the incident location. 
  • Additionally, the ANI/ALI display provides a description of where the call is coming from and allows dispatchers to determine if the call is coming from built-in OnStar service or the OnStar Guardian app.* 
  • Bilingual Advisor teams to assist French and Spanish speaking callers, and similar to ECCs, OnStar also utilizes the Language Line for communication assistance. 
  • Real-time access to information such as weather and Amber Alerts to pass along to our callers, when appropriate. 
  • A Command Center at GM headquarters in Detroit, MI, where call volume, telephony, service levels, and weather and crisis information are monitored to ensure proper support of our Members’ and Advisors' needs and access to Poison Control and Suicide/Crisis Prevention resources, as needed.

Visit our virtual outreach experience

Step inside to access a variety of public safety educational content highlighting OnStar’s emergency services. Explore the virtual exhibit hall, download reference materials, stop by the Auditorium to preview the OnStar Guardian app and attend breakout sessions about Automatic Crash Response and Vehicle Location Assistance to learn how we can work together.

First Responder stories 

Experience a day in the life of a First Responder. This exclusive content allows you to hear firsthand accounts of how public safety professionals approach their work — and the many ways they partner with OnStar.