Anyone with children can attest to the power of sound. There is a certain scream that every parent knows will both break windows and get their undivided attention. And as a parent of three I can definitively say yes…it really does hurt.

Some very bright people of letters recognized this potential and decided to put this power to work. They figured out that if you focused this sound in a narrow beam, it is very effective deterrent. Not deadly, but a great deterrent. It also allows sound communications as well—over long distances. The U.S. Navy has successfully used this technology in hailing at distances of up to 1,300 yards.

So, using sound to alert or “communicate” with others at great distance means a great deal of energy is being transmitted—enough, in fact, that it can be used to get people’s attention. While it sure sounds incredibly “PC,” does it really work? If you ask the crew of the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit, they would give a resounding yes. When several boats of pirates, of the genre that plague the waters off Somalia, attacked the cruise ship, the crew defended their vessel with just such a weapon.

Border Patrol Goes Acoustic: I was recently at a local CBP (Customs and Border Protection) facility when I saw two agents fiddling with this device that looked like a large searchlight. On closer inspection, the 2-foot-wide octagon had no actual light on the other side. It looked more like a large speaker, albeit a thin one.

My curiosity got the better of me, so I had to ask, “What is that thing?”

he agent politely told me the system was a directional acoustic tool. It’s called an LRAD, which stands for Long Range Acoustical Device. Basically it’s a system, a highly developed speaker that utilizes focused sound in a narrow beam to hail or to repel people.
The CBP agent demonstrated the system. From about 4 feet away, he turned it on and placed the system on its lowest setting. As I stood there, I couldn’t hear a thing. Then, as he turned it and it got close to facing me, I could just start to hear a slight pulsing-type sound. Then when it actually faced me, it became uncomfortably loud. This was in a beam I would estimate at about 2 feet wide.

Consider a place where there is a pass or trail where smugglers and illegal immigrants commonly use. All the agent needs to do is set up the system, sit off at an adjacent spot across a valley, aim the device and either hail the group, or perhaps push them back if necessary with the power of sound.

This is a good thing for many reasons. First, it spares agents from chasing migrants in isolated high-traffic areas. Second, this sound, while it’s momentarily painful to the ears and probably downright annoying, it is otherwise harmless when used correctly. It allows agents to stand off and communicate with or push groups back to where they came from or stand off from areas where it may be hard to actually get to, or is possibly too dangerous to go into.

This is not the first time these devices have been used in dealing with groups of people. The NYPD used the system to deal with protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention with apparent success.

It’s another non-lethal tool the CBP uses to help protect our borders while still respecting the value of life.

The President Speaks Out: On May 15, 2006, President Bush spoke out about the need to protect U.S. borders. In his statement, Bush stated, “We are launching the most technologically advanced security initiative in American history…America has the best technology in the world, and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border.”

This device is just such a part of the new high tech way to secure our border. While the need for a low-tech response such as a border fence is there, many “high tech” solutions are necessary in today’s modern age. Geography does not always cooperate with fence builders, and tools like the LRAD are able to bridge the gap.

American Tech’s LRAD
: American Technology Corporation in San Diego, CA, is one of the manufacturers of the LRADs used by the U.S. Border Patrol, as well as numerous police agencies and U.S. Navy.

The device focuses sound in a 15-30 degree cone keeping it in a narrow beam. At 300 yards it registers at 105 Db in a warning tone; just below the threshold of pain (which is about 120 Db according to Wikepedia). However, as long as the unit is used correctly by the company’s directions, it is relatively harmless. Outside the beam, you really can’t hear much. This way it can send a message or tone out at distances, and while the beam will find it’s mark, those nearby will be out of the high-intensity volume.
Much like the devices used on the cruise ship mentioned, these devices were originally designed for U.S. Navy vessels to ward off uninvited guests. It also allows clear and loud communication over long distances or between ships. It was even mentioned by the DHS’ Under Secretary for Science and Technology Jay Cohen in 2006 as some of their new technology was being employed in border protection.

They are in extensive use overseas, as well as in cities like in New York. Besides the “protestor” incident noted above, the NYPD also used the devices to communicate with revelers at Times Square during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Other police agencies have also used them successfully in pushing back protestors in Florida and in clearing suspects out of a house in Los Angeles.

LRADs Against Piracy: In September, 2005, several small motor vessels converged on the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit as it sailed off the Somali coast. The vessels closed in and attempted to board the cruise ship. With small arms and RPG’s, they fired on the cruise ship, injuring at least one crewmember in an attempt to board the vessel. Such attacks are not uncommon in the area, but it was the first of such attack on a cruise ship. Crewmembers fended off the attack using a loud acoustical “bang” from an LRAD mounted on the ship. It is believed that the attackers may have thought they were themselves under attack, and fled—another hostile situation defused with the power of sound.

For more information on American Technology Corporation and this rising technology, visit

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