Get ready to rumble
By Marin Perez
Often the most dangerous part of responding to a hot call is getting there safely.
Even with the lights on and sirens blaring, some motorists don't get out of the way at a crowded intersection. Whether they're hard of hearing, wrapped up in a cell phone conversation, or just oblivious, this creates a dangerous situation for officers and civilians.
This problem can be magnified in dense, urban environments where some residents have become desensitized to the sound of sirens.
But a different type of siren is utilizing deep bass tones to get drivers' attention. By making motorists feel the siren, the Rumbler is trying to help officers respond to calls quicker and safer.
"As more people are cocooning themselves in their cars with iPods, cell phones and DVD players, it makes it harder for police to clear an intersection with just their sirens and lights," said Tom Morgan, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Federal Signal Corp. "But the Rumbler cuts through the distractions and grabs a driver's attention."
The Rumbler emits low-frequency tones from coffee-can sized subwoofers installed in the squad's wheel wells. These lower tones duplicate the primary siren's sound, but 10 decibels lower.
This two octave difference allows the tone to penetrate solid materials better than the higher-pitched wail of the siren — so even if a motorist has their stereo blasting, they'll feel the Rumbler, look to see what's going on and hopefully get out of the way.
"It has a range of about 200 feet, so you have a good amount of space for drivers to realize where it's coming from," Morgan said.
When it's time for a Code 3, an officer would flip their lights and sirens on and then tap their integrated horn ring to activate the Rumbler. The device is automatically set to shut off after about 8 seconds, which Morgan said should be enough time to clear an intersection.
While working for the Florida Highway Patrol, then-Lt. Jim Wells noticed that some motorists were just not yielding to emergency vehicles.
"There had to be a better way," Capt. Wells said.
After research and development, the Rumbler was released by Illinois-based Federal Signal Corp. in the spring of 2006. Since then, about 200 departments — including the D.C. Metropolitan PD and NYPD — have used or are using the device, Morgan said.
Some may worry that the effect is so jarring that it could cause a motorist to lose control of their vehicle, but Morgan said those fears are unwarranted.
"It's a little more subtle than some depictions in the media. It's just enough to draw a driver's focus and become aware of the emergency situation that's emerging."
When the NYPD was doing their evaluation, Morgan said the most common description from civilians was "obnoxious."
"Their fleet manager told me that's a very good thing, because it's drawing attention," said Morgan.
Because of the size of the subwoofers, the Rumbler is primarily designed for Crown Vics and SUVs, but Federal Signal is working to make the device smaller without sacrificing range or "thumping" ability.
The Elk Grove (CA) PD has the device installed in a Dodge Charger and Officer Christopher Tim said it has been impressive.
"Motorists certainly get out of the way when it's on," Tim said. "We've seen a pretty good response, and I think more agencies should have this."