Weaponized sound

Protesting? Take a mask—AND hearing protection!

Photo credit: Z22 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Been to a protest rally recently? You may have seen a cop car with a 2ft x 2ft box on the roof….What is it? Likely, it’s a long-range acoustical device, or LRAD, that emits an unbearable and ear-damaging signal intended to induce panic and temporary incapacity. First developed for the military, these devices are now in use by police in some cities to “control”/incapacitate protesters. Lynne Peskoe-Yang, in Popular Mechanics‘ weapons column, wrote an excellent summary of the subject that you should read and circulate to your friends and acquaintances.

Along with tear gas, tasers, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets, LRADs are serious weapons—sonic weapons—that you need to prepare for because damage to your hearing will be permanent.

How damaging are LRADs? They can inflict serious pain, destroy your hearing, and leave you with permanent hearing damage. But police have been told they’re “harmless.” So expect indiscriminate use.

So be sure to wear or carry good earplugs AND earmuffs when you hit the street to join a protest march or rally. Once your hearing is gone, there’s no way to get it back. And the 16 million Americans who have tinnitus and/or hyperacusis can attest that hearing damage can be very, very painful and disabling.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As protests grow, will Trump’s threatened military force include NextGen sonic weapons?

LRADs deployed in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 2014 | Photo credit: Loavesofbread licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Weaponized sound is not new to police and military commanders, as this research paper from the journal Science and Global Security points out. There are good examples of weaponized sound going back many centuries, though they’re generally considered to be “non-lethal weapons.” Not harmless, but not deadly. And they’ve being used against protesters in the U.S., as shown in the photo from Ferguson, Missouri, shown above.

Eric Niiler, writing for History.com, provides a good historical summary of the subject, and includes a photo of a long range acoustic device, or sound cannon, deployed by police during a Trump rally in 2017 in Anaheim, California to deter potential mob action. But we’re much more likely to read about tear gas and pepper spray and water cannons and rubber bullets than this kind of high tech gear.

The article also reaches all the way back to the Israelites blaring trumpets at the walls of Jericho.

Do sonic weapons get used often? Yes. Niiler writes about recent appearances with which we’re all familiar:

Police units used LRAD devices at an Occupy Wall Street rally in 2011 and in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. They are currently deployed on naval ships to deter smaller boats from approaching. More than 20 countries are now using the LRAD. Israeli Defense Forces have used it to break up Palestinian protests, Japanese whaling ships have repelled environmental groups and several cruise ships have used it to fight off pirates in places like the Horn of Africa or Indian Ocean. Most recently, mysterious attacks on the US Embassy in Cuba appeared to be sonic in nature though no publicly available reports have disclosed understanding of what actually happened there.

And where there is weaponized sound, there are health concerns. This 2017 post by James Hamblin in The Atlantic is a very interesting overview on the health aspects of sonic weapons.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Protecting your ears at protests

Photo credit: Kelly Lacy from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Popular Mechanics reports on the recent use of military helicopters flying low over peaceful protests in our nation’s capital.

Helicopters at normal operating altitudes are too noisy, and at 40 feet over the ground are dangerously noisy. Flash-bang devices being used by police are also noisy.

If you are going to march in one of the demonstrators protesting police brutality and George Floyd’s death, put a pair of earplugs in your pocket.

Because if something sounds too loud, it is too loud.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Philadelphia deploys sonic weapons to harass loitering teenagers

“The Mosquito” | Photo credit: Sunmist dedicated this photograph to the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to this report on NPR, the city of Philadelphia is one of several cities that have been deploying “sonic weapons” in public parks to deter loitering by teenagers, who, because they’re young enough to have unimpaired hearing, are keenly sensitive to the high-frequency noise emitted by the devices.

The devices were developed by a Vancouver BC-based company called Moving Sound Technologies. The company’s president is quoted in the piece describing the product, which he calls “the Mosquito.” Also quoted are young people who say the noise is loud, and, in one instance, causes headaches.

There are quite a number of sonic weapons available on the market, often developed for military use, but now in the hands of police forces too. The 40-year-long refusal in the U.S. to understand that noise can—like second-hand smoke–be harmful to health has led many to assume that sonic weapons are harmless and merely annoying. That’s fundamentally wrong. In the meantime, city councils and neighborhood associations need to be vigilant about local police forces adopting such crowd-control methods that could be harmful to public health and just bad policy.  As Philadelphia councilwoman Helen Gym notes, “[i]n a city that is trying to address gun violence and safe spaces for young people, how dare we come up with ideas that are funded by taxpayer dollars that turn young people away from the very places that were created for them?”

We live in a noisy world—an unnecessarily noisy world—for the simple reason that most people, including our local and national leaders, have no idea that noise really is “the new second-hand smoke.” Until we get them to understand that the public is being harmed by environmental noise, we need to look after ourselves and our neighbors.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S123-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Weaponized music

This photo is the work the U.S. federal government, so the image is in the public domain in the U.S.

The Noise Curmudgeon  sends us to this Literary Hub piece on the use of loud music as a torture device by the U.S. interrogators in Guantánamo and elsewhere.  Along with blasting music at a damaging 100 decibels, the torturers at Gitmo would play songs by female performers which were “chosen specifically to offend the religious sensibilities of Islamist prisoners,” among other things.

So what does one play to break the will of detainees?  Some Britney Spears (that would break us), Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Mason, and the Barney and Friends, “I Love You Song.”

And for those who dismiss this awful tactic as torture, consider that the interrogators used loud music as a tool because “[i]t provoked fear, distress, and disorientation, crowding out the thoughts of the detainee and bending their will to the interrogators.”

 

 

 

There must be a German word for this

Photo credit: tinyfroglet licensed under CC BY 2.0

We are going with the phrase “absichtlich nervig”–intentionally annoying: Dezeen reports that German’s national rail service, Deutsche Bahn, has come up with novel and offensive way to “deter crime” in a Berlin station: playing atonal music to drive away “loiterers.”

So how does this work? Dezeen writes that pyschological studies have shown that “to non-expert listeners, listening to atonal music can raise blood pressure, and increase agitation and anxiety.”

Deutsche Bahn hopes the annoying sound will “discourage people from lingering,” apparently unconcerned about travelers who have no option but to wait at the station for their train.

 

 

 

 

 

Sound waves might damage soldiers’ brains

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This NPR report discusses brain damage from concussive blasts when shoulder-fired rockets are launched. This isn’t surprising. An animal study reported structural, genetic, and biochemical changes in rat brains when they were exposed to loud noise.

Most civilians aren’t exposed to blast injuries, but we are exposed to lots of noise.

The Marines discussed in this study didn’t have a choice about noise exposure.

We do.

Remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Noise as a weapon

 

Twenty former and current tenants are suing their landlord for using “relentless, noisy construction that exposed them to cancer-causing dust as part of a campaign to get rent-stabilized tenants out and high-priced luxury condo buyers in.” The landlord in question? Kushner Companies. Yes, that Kushner.

Anyone living in New York City knows that certain unscrupulous landlords employ tactics to force rent stabilized tenants out of apartments that are then quickly renovated and rented out at much higher market rates.  Among the weapons used to drive tenants from the buildings is noise. In this case, tenants “described hammering and drilling so loud it drowned out normal conversation,” along with rats running through walls, and never-ending dust that covered everything. Unfortunately, these horrific practices are rote with certain landlords, as they do everything they can to make life so miserable for tenants living in rent stabilized apartments that the tenants see no other option but to leave.  Hence the dust, the commotion, and the soul-crushing noise.

We hope the tenants suing Kushner Co. win and are generously compensated for the hell they were put through.

Justice prevails: Federal court rules sound cannon can be excessive police force

Alex Pasternack, Fast Company, reports on a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit decision that ruled “[a] powerful speaker that’s capable of causing hearing damage and is used by a growing number of police around the world isn’t merely a ‘communication device’ but, potentially, an instrument of excessive force.” The court was addressing the appeals of two New York City police officers who were seeking qualified immunity in a lawsuit that accused “them of using unconstitutionally excessive force when they deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2014.”

The 2nd circuit affirmed a decision last June in which District Court Judge Robert Sweet, of the southern district of New York, ruled that the sound emitted by a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) used by the New York City Police Department to order protestors onto sidewalks “could be considered a form of force.”

Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, writiing for the 2nd circuit, found that “purposely using an LRAD in a way that can cause serious injury in order to move non-violent protesters violates the Fourteenth Amendment.” Judge Katzmann added that, “this Court’s longstanding test for excessive force claims teaches that force must be necessary and proportionate to the circumstances … [T]he problem posed by protesters in the street did not justify the use of force, much less force capable of causing serious injury, such as hearing loss.”

It is never acceptable for any police force to use sound cannons against non-violent protestors. Period.