Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) and Public Safety
Long range acoustic devices, also known as LRADs, are being used more frequently by the US police and military. LRADs are a part of the United States Psychological Operations Units (PsyOps) which is an operation that researches non-lethal warfare. The police use them to control crowds while the military use them as weapons in war. More people need to know about sonic weapons because of the many dangers they pose. Most of what is known about these devices are filtered by the government, so it is hard to know the whole scope of what they can do. The fact that not much is known about these devices by the public make them even more important to know about. These devices can affect hearing, psychological well-being, and physical state in humans; however, there are ways to protect yourself from these dangerous devices.
LRADs can cause permanent hearing loss. There are multiple different kinds sonic weapons as shown by figure 1. Some are small enough to be handheld while others are designed to be on the outside of helicopters and big cars. Small LRADs are quieter and travel less miles than those that are on helicopters. Larger sonic weapons can go up to 160 decibel levels or more and these levels cause loss of hearing. This happens because the highest amount of decibel levels our ears can handle is around 130 (“Long Range Acoustic Devices for Crowd Control”). For instance, as stated in “Long Range Acoustic Devices for Crowd Control”, “That level of sound is capable of causing not only permanent hearing loss, but also migraine, vestibular, and other auditory symptoms.” This quote demonstrates that decibel levels over 130 can cause permanent hearing loss and other symptoms. Additionally, children, the elderly, and others with pre-existing hearing problems are in heightened danger around long range acoustic devices (“Long Range Acoustic Devices for Crowd Control”). The reasoning behind this is because the elderly have sensitive ears from living a long life while children have heightened hearing and can hear decibels levels adults cannot hear.
Long range acoustic devices cause psychological damage. In the past, the US military has used LRADs to scare the enemy. During the Vietnam War, the US military created a song of screaming and eerie sounds which struck terror in Vietnamese soldiers because of their belief that if the dead are not buried correctly their souls will wander the land forever in pain (Nichols). For example, as BG Nichols writes,
“...Wandering Soul, in which recordings of eerie sounds said to represent the souls of the dead were played through the night to spook the superstitious enemy. Despite eventually realizing that they were hearing a recording beamed from a helicopter, the enemy snipers could not suppress the fear that their souls would someday end up moaning and wailing in a similar fashion after death.” As shown by the quote, acoustic devices were used to
play sounds that terrified the enemy and made it easier to win the war. Then once the war was over, if they were lucky enough to live through it, they would have PTSD not only from the war but their experience with the sonic weapons. As shown by figure 2, the military placed acoustic sound devices on helicopters which would then project the recordings for everyone near the helicopter to hear. Overall, these devices are greatly damaging to mental health.
These devices can also cause extreme nausea and dizziness. When a high decibel level is played for a long period of time, the sound affects the brain which causes dizziness or nausea to occur. For instance, “The impact of such a high decibel frequency could perhaps be believed to instill a natural instinctive flight mechanism in the brain; it is also document[ed] that the effect of the LRAD can cause nausea or dizziness…” (Littlefield). As demonstrated by the quote, its been proven that LRADs cause nausea or dizziness. Additionally, it is believed that when in the range of a high decibel level the brain goes into flight mode which could trigger nausea and dizziness. In other words, the body is giving a signal to the brain to get away from the sonic device by using pain. Overall, these sound devices are immensely dangerous to the mind and body.
When in the presence of an acoustic device there are a few actions people can take to protect themselves. The only time citizens may come face to face with an acoustic weapon is when attending a protest. For example, acoustic devices have been seen at protests in New York, Chicago, Colorado, and many more states across the country. One way to protect against these devices is with ear protection. For instance, as Daphne Carr states, “If you think police might be using an LRAD at a protest you’re attending, bring earplugs or safety earmuffs with the highest dB-reduction rating you can find.” This quote highlights the correct ear protection required to protect humans ears when near an LRAD. Another way to protect from LRADs is to find shelter. Brick and concrete walls can deflect sounds which makes them a great shelter from sound devices (Carr). Lastly, running perpendicularly to where the LRAD is pointing can help lessen the effects of the sound. The sound from LRADs is like a beam; therefore, if you walk out of the area the beam is pointed in you can get out of the path of the sound (Carr).
In conclusion, LRADs cause physical and mental issues but there are a few methods to protect from these devices. Decibel levels over 130 lead to permanent hearing loss. Additionally, these devices can be used to emit sounds that cause psychological damage. An example of a mentally damaging sound is the “Wandering Soul” tapes used by the military in the Vietnam War. Lastly, acoustic devices cause dizziness and nausea. A few measures to take to protect from LRADs include earmuffs, shelter, and moving perpendicular to where the device is pointing. In the future, these devices might grow in strength and be used against us so it would be a good idea to look out for them and educate others.