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With New Device, Police Shake, Rattle and Roll

Officer Lou Schneider says the Rumbler gets motorists' attention and clears intersections more quickly than using only a conventional siren.
Officer Lou Schneider says the Rumbler gets motorists' attention and clears intersections more quickly than using only a conventional siren. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

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By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2007

With his lights and sirens blaring, D.C. police officer Lou Schneider raced to an emergency call, past dozens of startled onlookers standing on the crowded streets of the city's Chinatown area.

The ground beneath Schneider's patrol car literally was quivering.

"You know when this is coming up behind you," said Schneider, one of a few dozen D.C. officers who are using the department's newest sirens -- the ones that people can feel as well as hear.

"It vibrates everything," he said.

Meet the Rumbler.

The high-tech blaster is being used along with the traditional siren. It is aimed at grabbing people's attention and getting them to make room for officers responding to emergencies, helping police navigate through traffic faster and safer. People can feel it from about 200 feet away.

D.C. police have 49 cars equipped with the Rumblers, spread across the city. The Rumbler is part of a lights-and-sirens package the department is phasing in over several years as it gets new cars and retires old ones. In about four years, all of the department's 767 marked patrol cars likely will have them.

With a pair of high-output woofers and an amplifier, the Rumbler is not louder than a regular siren. It gets its message across with low-frequency sound waves that shake everything, including rear-view mirrors.

The Rumbler is meant to be used judiciously, in situations where motorists should pull over to make way for the police. It is timed to turn off automatically after 10 seconds. Still, police officials said, some people might be startled when they first experience it. And it remains to be seen if the public will view all that shaking as a helpful warning or just a nuisance.

"Once they see what it's attached to, they'll be all right," Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes said. "They'll get used it."

The city is buying the Rumblers at the behest of Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who said she wanted officers to have the newest technology, especially if it improves safety. She said officers at times have had trouble getting traffic to clear.

"People can't say they didn't hear the siren, because with these, they feel it," Lanier said.

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