September 24, 2009: Sound, the Weapon of the Future? Crowd Control in the 21st Century

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A Brief History

On September 24, 2009, the first use of a long range acoustic device (LRAD) for crowd control in the United States took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the G-20 summit that was being held there.  The first use had been in Georgia (the country, not the state) in 2007. 

Digging Deeper

Although it is also known as a sound cannon, its manufacturer, the LRAD Corporation, does not call it a weapon but rather a “directed sound communications system.”  It is a device that looks like a loudspeaker, however instead of projecting beautiful music, it generates deterring sounds that are pain inducing, and it can send those sounds over long distances.  People on the receiving end of an LRAD when it is used or crowd control suffer from headaches, pain, nausea and disorientation. (No report on what happens if you stick your fingers in your ears!)  Care must be taken that people are not zapped within 100 meters of a device or for longer than brief bursts of sound as permanent hearing loss may result. 

WARNING!!! Ensure volume is low when watching below video!!!

WARNING!!! Ensure volume is low when watching above video!!!

LRADs are generally only used sparingly.  An LRAD was used in August 2014 against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri during the Michael Brown shooting riots.  Sometimes LRADs are on hand but not used.  For example, during the “Million Marijuana March” in Poland (2011) authorities chose not to engage the device.

A less controversial use of LRADs is to chase birds and other wildlife away from areas such as airports, farms and nuclear plants.  LRADs can also be used as alert systems or to project auditory messages over long distances when there is heavy background noise.  They have also been used as weapons against piracy on the seas, although with mixed results. (Rockets and bullets apparently are mightier than sound waves.)

Another off-the-wall use of LRADs has been by the Japanese whaling industry to deter anti-whaling ships and helicopters from interfering.  Not surprisingly, the animal rights activists have acquired their own LRADs to use against the whalers.

Question for students (and subscribers): Can you come up with any novel uses for an LRAD?  Do you think they should be used at all?  Let us know what you think in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Volcler, Juliette and Carol Volk.  Extremely Loud: Sound as a Weapon.  The New Press, 2013.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.