Hams Help When Phones Fail at Southern California Hospital
By Joe Moell, K0OV
ARRL ARDF Coordinator
When nurses and other caregivers picked up their phones at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) in California in the early morning on March 21, there was no dial tone. A power surge caused the central processor in the hospital’s phone switch to fail. Following established procedures, the Lead Operator at the CHOC switchboard immediately activated the Hospital Disaster Support Communications System (HDSCS), using an off-switch tie-line to reach April Moell, WA6OPS, head of this ARES® group that specializes in helping hospitals when their communications fail.
Moell established a 2 meter net and initiated a call-out of HDSCS members via telephone and pager. Ken Simpson, W6KOS, and Clay Stearns, KE6TZR, soon arrived at the hospital to help establish a link with the outside world. Soon, more operators were at the hospital to communicate for its most important units, including the emergency department, neonatal intensive care, pediatric intensive care and the pharmacy.
She then contacted the supervisor at Orange County Communications to report the outage and to provide her telephone number for incoming calls to CHOC. This resulted in Moell receiving several urgent messages for the hospital, including one regarding the transport of a young patient coming in for an appendectomy. Message handling continued through the morning, with some of the first-to-arrive operators being relieved by other HDSCS members when they had to leave for work or other commitments.
By 10:45 AM, some phones were working, but spare parts were on their way from a supplier. HDSCS continued to provide unit-to-unit and hospital-to-community messaging as needed, including coordination of patient treatments and a request for blood. At 1:02 PM, the repair crew announced that the phone system was back to normal, except for some voicemail functions. HDSCS members remained on station for 30 more minutes, as they always do to insure that phone systems are stable before securing.
This is the 31st year of HDSCS service to medical facilities in Orange County and the 114th activation to provide communications support when telephones have failed or overloaded. The reasons for HDSCS involvement have ranged from equipment failure, to cut cables, to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and wildfires. Each member has their own go-kit that is ready to take to any of the 36 supported hospitals to establish communications. The HDSCS is familiar with CHOC because the group has participated in drills and communications emergencies there before, including a external phone outage that lasted 22 hours in August 2006 when a construction accident severed fiber optic cables.
The following HDSCS members also participated in this activation: Paul Broden, K6MHD; Tom Hall, N6DGK; Bill Hegardt, K6WIL; Rebecca Katzen, KI6OEM; Joe Moell, K0OV; Dale Petes, KI6ANS; Sam Stratton, W5AGX, and Fred Wagner, KQ6Q.