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Brigade Battles Blaring ’Beep, Beep, Beeps’ With White Sound

Wed November 26, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Maura Bohart

Beep, Beep, Beep.

The infamous and sometimes maddening sound of construction vehicles backing up can be heard all over New York City. The sound causes many noise complaints from disgruntled residents.

But it won’t be around forever.

On Jan. 1, the last of the Citywide Construction Noise Mitigation rules, laid out by the department of Environmental Protection, took effect in New York City. This rule limits the use of beeping or “tonal” alarms on construction vehicles. They will not be allowed when work is close to “sensitive” areas, including schools, hospitals, places of worship and homes for the aging.

Other cities also are taking drastic measures to reduce noise at construction sites. Maricopa County in Phoenix, Ariz., and Seattle, Wash., for example, have implemented noise ordinances. These ordinances often limit the shrill, unnerving beep, beep, beep that is one of the main noise-related complaints about construction sites. Many regulators penalize tonal content in a sound by as much as 7 dBA because the tones cause great annoyance.

“Today’s alarms are a noise nuisance. The decibel level of 112 decibels carries for over one-and-a-half miles,” said Philip Hanson-Abbott, president of Brigade Electronics Inc.

But contractors can’t eliminate the alarm. It would be unsafe.

“Equipment operators often have a blind spot, so they can’t see when they’re reversing,” said Emily Randall, PR and marketing executive of Brigade Electronics Inc. “An alarm or spotter is required by OSHA to help prevent accidents.”

When examining the future of backup alarms, Brigade came up with a new alternative — the bbs-tek white sound alarm, which uses a wide range of frequencies known as broadband.

Quiet Noise Is Sometimes the Loudest

Sometimes, quiet sounds are louder than loud sounds. The sound of Brigade’s new alarm doesn’t carry nearly as far as a traditional alarm, and it isn’t as high in decibels. Yet it’s easier for people near the sound to hear.

Why? Because Brigade’s bbs-tek white sound alarm uses multiple frequencies. People who are hard-of-hearing can be deaf to some frequencies but not others, so they are much more likely to hear the bbs-tek with its thousands of frequencies.

Also, because the sound doesn’t carry as far, it doesn’t irritate people unless they are actually close to the vehicle that is backing up and need to be alerted. Like the boy who cried wolf, traditional alarms warn of danger so often that people stop paying attention. When the real wolf arrives, they aren’t listening to the warning any more.

Steven Wagener, general manager of CTE Sand & Gravel of Tecumseh, Mich., wrote a letter to Brigade, saying, “We were recently inspected by MSHA [Mine Safety and Health Administration], and I was joking with the inspector that, with the old alarms, there were so many going off all the time that you could get run over by a loader and never know it was coming. With the bbs alarm you don’t hear them unless they are aiming at you, then they really get your attention.”

The “shhh” sound emitted by the alarm is much less annoying than the beep of traditional alarms, but still complies with OSHA safety requirements. However, it also complies with New York’s noise ordinance.

Seeing Sounds

The American Council for the Blind has passed a resolution calling for the use of broadband (white sound), because current alarms “serve more to disorientate people who are blind and visually impaired than to assist them”.

“If you have ever been in an area where multiple alarms are sounding, unless you actually see the source of the noise, it is virtually impossible to tell where the sound is coming from,” said Hanson-Abbott.

This is because the ear needs a wide range of frequencies to locate a sound — and traditional alarms don’t provide them.

First, the brain examines low frequencies, 1 kHz and below. With these sounds, it can tell the timing difference between the sound arriving at one ear and then at the other. The greater the time difference, the farther to one side the vehicle is.

But there is still a cone of confusion as to the specific location of the sound. The brain also listens to how loud a sound is at one ear and then at the other. If the sound is louder at the right ear, the vehicle is to the right. Medium frequencies of 3 kHz and above help the brain sense the intensity difference of the sound at each ear.

But is the sound in front of or behind the person? The brain figures this out by using high frequencies of 5 kHz and above. These frequencies strike the outer ear at various angles and the brain does the math to figure out where the sound originated.

With sufficient spectrum the brain can pinpoint the sound source to within five degrees without using the eyes at all.

“With all this, bbs-tek technology is just plain safer,” said Henry Morgan, director and general manager of Brigade Electronics. “Not only is the sound locatable but, being heard only in and near the hazard area, it has a much lower false alarm rate than tonal beepers. False alarms are of no use whatsoever, they are costly in terms of both annoyance and performance.”

Eyes in the Back of Your Truck

Unlike the Carolina wolf spider, none of us have eyes in the backs of our heads, but man has learned to adapt by means of intelligence and invention.

--Dave Barton, consultant

Alarm systems alert people that a vehicle is backing up, but Brigade has one more trick up its sleeve. Why not also help the driver to see what’s behind him, so that he can avoid backing into it in the first place?

The Backeye CCTV reversing camera provides a digital monitor mounted to the dash. The operator can easily see what’s behind the vehicle. According to Brigade, this reduces the probability of damage to the machine, personal property of others and pedestrians.

And if all else fails and an accident does occur, a visual image of exactly what happened can be stored on a separate recorder, similar to the black box on an airplane. The LCD screen provides a clear picture, not a blurry black and white image. So the owner can tell exactly what went wrong.

H.O. Penn CAT and Brigade

H.O. Penn CAT of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has been selling Brigade backup devices for more than two years.

Prior to becoming aware of Brigade, H.O. Penn was offering standard narrowband sound back-up alarms as its only option. But the noise pollution issues forced it to seek out alternatives.

“We’ve had officials from MSHA praise the Brigade products we distribute,” Dave Douglas, parts manager of H.O. Penn, explained. “This has been a great promotion tool for both Backeye systems and bbs-tek broadband white sound alarms. Word spreads quickly in the mining and quarrying business.”

Since adopting the Brigade products, H.O. Penn has helped many contractors improve their operations.

In a letter, Joe DiGiacomo, shop manager of Yonkers Contracting Inc., explained that he had received a call from Fred Cardillo, project manager of the 287 bridge reconstruction job. Cardillo had informed DiGiacomo that many citizens were complaining about the noise coming from DiGiacomo’s job site. Most complaints referenced the “beep, beep, beep” of the company’s backup alarms.

DiGiacomo contacted H.O. Penn, which sent two Brigade BBS 92 white sound alarms to the site. After installing them, DiGiacomo purchased 10 more and no further noise complaints were received.

“Backeye CCTV systems are excellent quality and well priced, as all Brigade products are,” Douglas said. “That’s the real difference between these rear-view products and competitor models. There is huge scope for reversing safety initiatives here in the U.S. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

H.O. Penn has branches in Bloomingburg, N.Y.; Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Bronx, N.Y.; Holtsville, N.Y.; Danbury, Conn.; and Newington, Conn.

For more information, call H.O. Penn CAT at 845/437-4000 or visit

For more information on Brigade, call 011-44-132-242-0350 or visit

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