Sonic Devices Demand Greater Research.

Author:Pedersen-Giles, Jens

* Throughout history, sound has been used to enhance the effectiveness of conventional and psychological military operations. Today, warfighters use sonic devices for a wider variety of functions, including clear communication in the field at standoff distances, warning civilians away from bases, and nonviolently deterring potential enemy combatants.

The Joint Nonlethal Weapons Program sees the near future potential for sonic devices as not only improving existing functions, but to be integrated with other nonlethal weapon systems.

Private firms have also worked to expand the role of these devices beyond their place in the military's force escalation toolkit. The same devices used by the military have seen numerous applications in emergency response; including directing port traffic during earthquake relief efforts in Haiti and broadcasting evacuation orders during a Colorado wildfire.

As sonic technologies grow in popularity and use, there is an increasing risk that improper deployment of their potentially debilitating effects could result in regulations that restrict their legitimate applications. Frequent problematic use by civil authorities is poisoning the public's understanding of these technologies. This can already be seen in the media where the Long-Range Acoustic Device, a hailer used by the military for over a decade, is being referred to as a "sound cannon" due to its misuse during public protests by police forces.

Together with legal challenges and condemnation by advocacy group; public opposition may serve as the foundation for an overly restrictive government response, which would require the military and members of the industrial base to defend the merits of sonic devices. Further research into the human impacts of high intensity audible sound would bolster efforts to preserve the unique capabilities of sonic devices.

The effects of audible sound in the frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz have been thoroughly researched in laboratory and environmental studies. Sound above a certain intensity measured in decibels can cause disorientation, pain and temporary or permanent threshold shifts in hearing. Guidelines on safe noise exposure vary, but sound over 100 decibels can cause hearing loss over the course of minutes, and at 120 decibels impulse sound begins to produce a pain response. Sound over 140 decibels can cause near-immediate hearing damage. Sonic devices currently employed by the military and law enforcement can produce...

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