Rumbler Siren

→ Summary
→ Safety and Health Concerns
→ The Money Trail
→ Legal Considerations
→ New York City Police Department
→ Take Action
→ Additional Material


The Rumber is a siren system for use in police cruisers as a means to catch the attention of motorists with an ear splitting sound that can be heard and felt. Police departments who purchase the devices are promoting the Rumbler as a new high-tech police siren. Its use presents a new form of urban blight where residents are made captive to an intense low frequency noise that is detrimental to public health. The sirens contribute to urban blight, turning communities into ghettos.

The siren emits low frequency duplicate tones that according to its manufacturer, Federal Signal Corporation, "have the distinct advantage of penetrating and shaking solid materials allowing vehicle operators and nearby pedestrians to FEEL the sound waves, and perhaps even see their effects through a shaking rearview mirror."

Federal Signal Corporation markets the device as an intersection-clearing device in urban environments with heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic. A competitor product called the Howler Low Frequency Tone Siren, from Whelen Engineering, is also designed to produce low frequency noise on emergency vehicles.

The siren can be heard and felt from a distance up to 200 feet away. It easily penetrates into nearby homes and apartments even with windows closed. A secondary effect of the Rumbler siren is its ability to set off vibration-sensitive car alarms.

In law enforcement parlance, 'Code 3 Response' is a mode of response for a police vehicle responding to a call; it mandates officers to move through traffic with the police cruiser lights flashing and sirens blaring. However, the use of sirens is also used for non-emergency use at the discretion of the officer, even when department policy specifically discourages its use other than emergencies.

Not unlike its military cousin, the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), this technology allows police to use sound as a weapon at the push of a button.

Rumbler Siren

The electronic components that comprise the siren. In addition to a primary siren amplifier and speaker, a secondary amplifier blasts the siren noise through a pair of high output woofers. It uses a safety timer to sound off after ten seconds, but an officer can simply restart the siren at will.

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Safety and Health Concerns

Noise pollution is unwanted human-created sound that has the effect of being annoying, distracting, painful, or physically harmful. People exposed to noise pollution suffer from hearing loss, sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue, anxiety, hostility, depression and hypertension. World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, United Nations and numerous scientific and medical publications recognize noise pollution and its deleterious effects.

The intense sound caused by the Rumbler siren easily triggers an involuntary stress response commonly known as "fight or flight." This results in the secretion of adrenaline, with ensuing spikes in cardio-respiratory rates, muscle tension, and elevated blood pressure. Vibroacoustic Disease is a cumulative and chronic disease caused by exposure to infrasound. Infrasound is low frequency sound energy that affects the nervous system and prolonged exposure can lead to progressive medical conditions.

Federal Signal Corporation issues an explicit warning in its own marketing materials that its "sirens and speakers may cause hearing damage." Whelen Engineering advises operators to wear approved hearing protection.

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The Money Trail

Federal Signal Corporation is the manufacturer of the Rumbler Siren. They are a supplier of audible and visual signaling, warning equipment, and communications equipment for the industrial marketplace. Federal Signal Corporation is a member of the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NEAD), a trade group.

The Whelen Engineering Company, Inc., is the manufacturer of the Howler. They design, develop, and market audio and visual signaling devices primarily for law enforcement, security, and the military.

As police departments demonstrate the Rumbler siren to promote itself through local news media, Federal Signal Corporation collects the media placements on its website. The implicit message is that purchasing the Rumbler siren is a means for police to generate headlines.

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Legal Considerations

While the Rumbler siren is promoted as an intersection-clearing device, most police departments that buy them have no real traffic. The Lower Allen Township in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania has a population of about 17,437 residents, yet their police department purchased Rumbler sirens for its two police cars. Montgomery, Pennsylvania has a population of just 1,695 residents and their police department saw fit to purchase the sirens as well.

Washington, D.C. police have 49 cars equipped with the siren. As the department phases in new vehicles and retires its older fleet, the department intends to have all its marked patrol cars equipped with the device by 2012.

Over a hundred police departments have purchased the Rumbler device. This is a partial list of municipalities that are known to have deployed the siren:

  • Amarillo, Texas
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Alexandria, Virginia
  • Springfield, Missouri
  • Reading, Pennsylvania
  • Dauphin, Pennsylvania
  • Montgomery, Pennsylvania
  • Cumberland, Pennsylvania
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Tulsa, Oklahoma is known to have purchased the Howler device for its fleet of ambulances.

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New York City Police Department

NYPD Demonstrating the Rumbler Siren

The New York City Police Department demonstrating the Rumbler siren. The NYPD is considered initiating an "education campaign" so that the public would not be afraid of the noise.

When the NYPD first announced its use of the Rumbler siren, the news media failed to ask any critical questions and largely treated the story as a novelty.

The NYPD purchased and installed the equipment with no oversight, no public hearings, and with no evident liability for the massive noise pollution they are about to inflict on citizens, all in the name of public safety. The New York City Council has oversight of the NYPD through the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Peter F. Vallone, Jr. The Speaker of the Council is Christine C. Quinn. To date, they have not commented on the issue. With no further inquiry from legislators, New Yorkers are subjected to bone-rattling noise as the sirens are now in widespread use by the police.

The offensive noise contributes to a sense of menace and hostility. For residents who live anywhere near busy thoroughfares and any of the dozens of police precincts around the city and the boroughs, it presents a serious noise nuisance. The Rumbler siren is equipped in 150 police cruisers in lower Manhattan.

In one newspaper article, an NYPD official suggested that New Yorkers should take it in stride, "the way New Yorkers do". Evidently, that includes families with babies, young children, the elderly and people who are convalescing. Considering the elevated noise levels New Yorkers endure for lack of adequate noise code enforcement, the hubris expressed by the NYPD is breathtaking.

Robert Martinez is the NYPD director of Fleet Services. In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, he claimed that the sounds emitted from the device registers lower on the decibel scale than the traditional siren sound.

Sirens are designed to emit sound directionally from the front of the vehicle to alert oncoming traffic and pedestrians; the Rumbler uses low-frequency sound that is non-directional. Low-frequency sound energy penetrates windows (including double-paned windows) into residents apartments that can be heard and felt.

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Take Action

Lobby you local legislators against the implementation of the Rumber device. Meet with police officials and discuss the issue of noise pollution from this type of siren.

Talk to your neighbors and organize; work with community groups and raise the issue against this type of siren.

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Additional Material

What Is The Rumbler?
A flyer for affected residents dealing the Rumbler siren noise in New York City. Post on bulletin boards (work, supermarket, library, school campus, coffee house, house of worship) and pass them out at community meetings and public spaces. Send copies to your local elected legislators and the media.

Rumbler Intersection-Clearing System
A marketing sell-sheet that describes the Rumbler device and its specifications.
Federal Signal Corporation 2007 [PDF]

Rumbler Siren Sound Sample
A sound sample of the siren. Even at full volume, computer speakers cannot fully reproduce the sound energy the siren produces.

Howler Low Frequency Tone Siren
A marketing sell-sheet that describes the Howler device and its specifications.
Whelen Engineering 2008 [PDF]

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