Lights, siren, rumbler: Police device shakes up traffic

The Patriot-News

HARRISBURG, Pa. — In the midst of an emergency call last month, Lower Allen Twp. Police Officer Matthew Claeys flicked on his cruiser's lights and sirens as he tried to navigate thick traffic on Interstate 83.

Only one or two vehicles heeded the blare, Claeys said. Hoping for a better response, he pressed another button, activating a ground-shaking low-frequency siren known as the Rumbler.

"I did that, and immediately six cars moved over," Claeys said.

The high-tech siren was installed last month on two of Lower Allen's eight Ford Crown Victoria cruisers. Similar to a subwoofer on a home theater system, the Rumbler emits a low-pitched baritone signal that lasts 10 to 15 seconds and accompanies the traditional lights and sirens.

In other words, you'll not only see the police car in your rear-view mirror, you'll be able to feel it, too.

"It's more of an attention-getter than a siren," said Frank E. Williamson Jr., the township's director of public safety.

Lower Allen paid about $350 for each of its Rumblers, Williamson said. It might equip its entire fleet if the feedback from officers continues to be positive, he said.

Williamson was approached last fall by a salesman for Federal Signal Corp., a siren supplier based in Oak Brook, Ill. After the salesman demonstrated the Rumbler, several officers came out to the parking lot to see what was going on.

"Their desks were rattling," Williamson said.

The Rumbler allows officers to respond to emergencies more quickly and safely, Williamson said, especially during daylight rush hours when the cruiser's lights might not be as visible as they are at night. It also more effectively grabs the attention of a motorist during a traffic stop, he said.

The Rumbler also is more effective when officers come across younger adults cocooned in their vehicles with the stereo blasting - or even wearing iPod ear buds while driving.

"We've all been at an intersection and tried to figure out where the siren is coming from," said Kurt Laumeister, Federal Signal's senior district manager. "A motorist can now locate that police car pretty quickly, and that's the main advantage."

Lower Allen is the first area municipality to buy the device, said Laumeister, whose region spans Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

East Lampeter Twp. police in Lancaster County use them, Laumeister said.

About 40 police departments nationwide have installed Rumblers, said Tom Morgan, Federal Signal's vice president for sales and marketing.

"There's always one or two departments that love to test new technology and see if it works," Laumeister said. "Once one department gets it and then another, that's usually how word of mouth spreads and how it takes off. It's really a product that works."

How it works
* The Rumbler emits a low-pitched baritone signal that lasts 10 to 15 seconds and accompanies traditional police lights and sirens.

* Drivers can feel the signal, which gets the attention of those who are listening to loud stereos or wearing ear buds.

* Police say the device helps them get through traffic faster.

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