Pager loss forces lifestyle change
Tristate hospitals downplay dangers

Thursday, May 21, 1998

BY LAURA GOLDBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Across the Tristate, some among the pager-dependent are going cold turkey. And forcibly so.

A satellite problem that is scrambling service nationwide is forcing Greater Cincinnatians to make temporary changes.

INFOGRAPHIC:
Satellite loses control
Doctors, real estate agents and others who rely on a beep to stay in touch have been forced to turn to phones: old-fashioned or cellular. Many described the disruption as little more than annoying. Local hospitals said it's not life-threatening. Others reflected on how much Americans have come to rely on technology in their daily lives.

"It's a pain but it hasn't been a problem," said Jeff Blunt, spokesman for the TriHealth hospital group, which had a pager backup plan ready to spring into action. "All the bases have been covered."

Added Lt. Shawn Butler of the Independence, Ky., police: "I guess you become a little dependent on technology sometimes. It's kind of a wake-up call when you have to go back to the way things were." The department's pagers were out Tuesday night but were up and running Wednesday afternoon, he said.

The problem, which knocked out service to an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of the nation's 45 million pagers,started about 6 p.m. Tuesday when the Galaxy IV satellite stopped relaying pager messages and media feeds. Its onboard control system and a backup switch failed and the satellite rotated out of position.

PanAmSat, the Greenwich, Conn., company that owns the satellite, immediately began shifting signals onto other PanAmSat satellites but said Wednesday that it will take about a week to restore service to everyone.

Not all paging customers have been hit; those whose connections go through ground-based radio transmitters are fine.

Locally, those with dead pagers found alternative ways to communicate. "It is affecting us. What we're doing is calling our voice mails and picking up messages that way," said Mary Dean Dorger, manager of Comey & Shepard Realtors' Mariemont office. "We rely on our pagers a lot. There's no question."

The office has 40 agents.

"We're missing a lot of calls."

At TriHealth, which includes Good Samaritan, Bethesda North and Bethesda Oak hospitals, Mr. Blunt said patient care hasn't been affected.

Doctors, he said, have been informing their offices of their whereabouts and checking in with answering services. When they go out, some carry cell phones.

When the pager problems started, on-call doctors were notified, he said.

"Our pagers seem to come in and out," he said.

At University Hospital, spokeswoman Amy Bomar said: "The good news is a lot of pagers are now starting to work again. It did disrupt us last night.

"Once people were aware of the problem, they just did things differently."

Some doctors have also been given pagers that are part of an in-house paging system, she said. That system's range extends outside the hospital.

At Medica Inc., an independent physicians organization of 450 doctors, spokeswoman Kari Englert said cell phones help ease some concerns.

Doctors "need to be thinking more clearly about reporting in and staying in touch," she said. ""Technology is great until it's down, because you feel crippled. You forget what you did before." Pagers aren't the only service hampered. Feeds to National Public Radio (NPR) station members have been disrupted, including those locally. That's meant some programming changes.

"We're calming down. It's been a traumatic 20 hours or so," Dave Arnold, general manager of WNKU, said with a laugh Wednesday afternoon. "At first we didn't know what was happening and there were conflicting reports."

Wednesday's Morning Edition programming came via a telephone line and wasn't at its normal quality.

By afternoon, Mr. Arnold was preparing to reposition the Northern Kentucky University station's satellite dish by 4 degrees to capture transmissions from another satellite.

At WMUB at Miami University, the station played jazz music from its archives from midnight until 5 a.m. Wednesday instead of its normal satellite-fed jazz program.

Wednesday morning, the station used an Internet feed for about 45 minutes for Morning Edition. The sound quality, he said, wasn't the best.

Then the station got programming via a fiber-optic link with the Ohio Educational Television Network in Columbus. The network got the programming from a digital phone link to NPR in Washington. Said general manager Cleve Callison: "We're just kind of improvising things as they go."

The Associated Press contributed.



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