NYC considers mandating new emergency sirens

Photo credit: David Vincent Villavicencio

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

Councilwoman Gale Brewer and several of her New York City councilmembers have introduced a bill that will mandate the use of “hi-lo, two-tone sirens” by New York City emergency response vehicles. New York City residents have long complained about the stress imposed on them by the emergency sirens now in use, especially late at night. Brewer rightfully points out that noise from these sirens can have an adverse effect on the health of New Yorkers.

It is true that sirens perform an important function, but they need not be as disruptive as they now are. The recommended two-tone siren, while still carrying out its major function, is less disruptive to residents subjected to the sound. Councilwoman Brewer took a ride with a deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department to listen to a low-frequency sound known as a rumbler siren. She found that other vehicles responded immediately to this rumbler siren which allowed a “clear path for the emergency vehicle.”

Interestingly, Mount Sinai hospital has been using a two-tone siren for its ambulances for a few years now, yet many residents claim that the sirens are still disturbing. Councilwoman Brewer believes the city can meet its emergency vehicle response times while providing a “better quality of life” for its residents. But the dissatisfaction of some residents living near the new Mount Sinai siren indicates that more research must be conducted, including examining data on the Mount Sinai siren as well as data on the sirens used in vehicles in Europe, before the city can come up with an appropriate, but less offensive emergency siren.

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