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.