For a while last week, many hospital corridors crackled with messages from overhead speakers, just like the old days before pagers were routine.
That's because a wobbly satellite interfered with the nation's communications infrastructure, cutting off 90% of interstate pager traffic until hundreds of thousands of antennas on the ground could shift to backup satellites.
Some hospitals got a chance to try out disaster plans hatched to counter a sudden loss of communications. Other facilities stayed quiet and unaffected.
Many hospitals use local, ground-based paging communication networks, said Alicia Mitchell, spokeswoman for the American Hospital Association. Some hospitals dragged out old pagers with a 1- to 2-mile radius, while others relied on the public address system, she said.
At Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, officials tapped a supply of walkie-talkies kept for disasters that could knock out phone cables, said spokesman Gary Stephenson.
The hospital recently had run a drill to rehearse response to a building explosion, fire or civil unrest. "We responded to the loss of pagers just as we would any other communication loss," Stephenson said.
Only about 20 or so pagers were knocked out at Baystate Health Systems in Springfield, Mass., mainly for physicians who travel a wide area of western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.
Pagers at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago operated as usual through a system of antennas on the rooftops of buildings in the hospital complex, said spokesman John Pontarelli. For long-distance paging, the medical center relied on the nearby 100-story John Hancock Center, he said.