Noise solution: broadband backup alarms restore peace and quiet in Alberta town
Twenty minutes west of Calgary, you'll find the (mostly) quiet town of Cochrane, Alberta. Cochrane is no sleepy backwater, though; it's the province's largest town and has been one of the fastest growing communities in Canada for several years. But the town's construction efforts haven't been music to everyone's ears.
Back in 2014, after sleepless nights disturbed by the "beeping" sound of construction vehicle backup alarms at nearby businesses, local resident Kevin Shier and some of his neighbours went looking for an alternative.|
"Over 1,000 people in our area were affected by the noise," explained Shier. "Current bylaws prohibit industrial noise after 10 pm and before 7 am, but it wasn't so much the loudness of the alarms, it was the permeating noise they produce. Even at low levels it disturbs your sleeping patterns. I have a friend who sold his house and moved from our neighbourhood because of it. This isn't limited to one area of town. There is construction in every quadrant that affects residents."
The group's search led them to "white noise" broadband sound backup alarms, which replaces the "beep" with a "shush" sound. As broadband sound is directional, it's concentrated to a specific area alerting workers to vehicles in their immediate vicinity. In fact, the group was so convinced by the technology, they bought several alarms using their own money and gave them to the noisy businesses for testing.
After the first business switched, several others in the town soon followed suit, and to date nearly 200 broadband backup alarms are in use by the Town of Cochrane's fleet, as well as local businesses AllSpan, Spray Lakes Sawmills and Cochrane Landscape Supply. To cater to demand, a local supplier was needed to ensure a steady supply of backup alarms were available. Shier, through his company Bird's Eye Technologies, Ltd., became a distributor for Brigade Electronics, the manufacturer of the white noise alarm system they had used.
Following these successes, members of Cochrane's council even pledged to amend the town's bylaw to permit the sole use of broadband backup alarms in the town. However, two years on, no legislation had been passed.
"With the past council we were told it was a simple change: a no brainer," said Shier. "But after our community group met with the bylaw department, we were told that the town would not be proceeding with a noise bylaw amendment as it would be too hard to police with out-of-town contractors working in the town. The Council felt it would also preclude some vendors from bidding on jobs for the Town of Cochrane's internal departments."
Shier debunks these reasons.
"If we don't have a bylaw with specific wording, bylaw officers have nothing to enforce," he said. "We all know of many areas where bylaws are ‘softly' enforced to better our communities. However, without a ban on tonal alarms, we can't even start the conversation with businesses. Local infrastructure projects for the Town of Cochrane are typically large, most exceeding $100,000, so changing to an alarm that costs $100 on a vehicle is not an onerous expense."
In addition, Shier's role as the only local distributor has led to accusations of a vested interest on Shier's part, something he strongly refutes.
"There were three reasons I became a distributor," he said. "First, no other supplier in Cochrane existed (which is still the case); second, the Town of Cochrane insisted local distribution was made available; and third, to be able to offer the technology at cheaper prices as most online retailers in Canada are marking them up two to three times over their purchase price. It doesn't matter where they purchase them. It matters that it gets done."
Despite the halt in progress, Shier's efforts continue, and he hopes the new council will support bylaw changes.
"As community members, it isn't our job to police noise in the town. And without a bylaw, it isn't the Town's job either. Without a bylaw, we can't manage noise pollution the way the community wants. We know we need to offer win-win ideas – not force our demands upon businesses. This means educating them about the negative health effects, and demonstrating that they have viable options without sacrificing safety. The bylaw amendment would assist with the followup and education pieces, allowing the conversation to start."
Frustratingly, the Town just recently issued a contract to build a new road close to residential areas. Not a single vehicle on that contract is using a broadband sound alarm, so the original annoying backup alarm noise has returned to the same area of Cochrane as before. But Shier isn't despondent.
"Change starts with citizens. The community belongs to its people," he says. "We don't know of any other towns which have tackled these issues. I'd like anyone else affected in other towns to contact me about the action they're taking. Safety and silence aren't mutually exclusive, but most operators and communities don't know that."