Nova Scotia

Sydney call centre readies for calls from Floridians in Irma's path

As people in Florida are preparing to be hit by Hurricane Irma, staff at a Sydney call centre are preparing to take their calls for help.

ServiCom's OnStar staff in Sydney fielding hurricane-related calls on behalf of Red Cross

Todd Riley is the director of the ServiCom call centre in Sydney. (Holly Conners/CBC)

As people in Florida are preparing to be hit by Hurricane Irma, staff at a Sydney call centre are getting ready to take their calls for help.

The ServiCom call centre has spent the past 1½ weeks fielding calls from victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

"We've fielded probably close to 40,000 calls so far with Hurricane Harvey," said Todd Riley, the centre's director. 

"And now coming into Hurricane Irma that's approaching the Florida state, we anticipate that it could be just as much, if not worse."

Working on behalf of Red Cross

ServiCom has a contract with OnStar, General Motors' subscription-based vehicle communications service, which has partnered with the Red Cross to help with disaster response.

Riley said ServiCom's OnStar staff in Sydney have been fielding hurricane-related calls on behalf of the Red Cross.

"Anything from simple requests for phone numbers — 'How can I donate?' — to people that were in an emergency situation where they were on top of the rooftop or needed assistance because of the flooding and just could not get out of their neighbourhood," he said.

Helping callers 'feel secure'

The Sydney centre has now switched its focus from Texas to Florida and plans to add an additional 50 to 75 agents to deal with the expected increase in call volume.

Agent Allan MacDougall started receiving calls from people in Florida on Friday morning.

"Right now most people are calling wanting to know if there are shelters, where they can go in case of the storm. So it's more so giving them information, making them feel secure," said MacDougall. 

Allan MacDougall says many callers affected by hurricanes have been understandably emotional. (Holly Conners/CBC)

He said he expects the nature of the calls to change over the coming days. Some hurricane victims have so far been emotional, he said, but most have been "amazing." 

"People are going to call and their homes have been destroyed. They're going to be looking for food and clothing and shelters [and] financial assistance," said MacDougall. 

"They always say, 'Thank you.' They always say, 'God bless.'"

About the Author

Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at holly.conners@cbc.ca.

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