There are lots of different types of personal alarms. Choosing the best one for you can sometimes be tricky – read on for loads of suggestions and tips on how to make the right choice.
The Purpose of a Personal Alarm
The purpose of a Personal Safety Alarm is to shock and disorientate an attacker, giving you vital seconds to get away.
The most important feature of an alarm is the sound it emits. If an attacker is to be shocked enough to pull away from you, this sound needs to be as loud and as shrill as possible. It also needs to be different from those which are commonly heard. For example, if a personal alarm pulsates like many car alarms, the sound may not be as effective as it is not so shocking. In our opinion the most effective sound is continuous and over 130 decibels.
Your alarm needs to be easy to carry, but it is important to consider whether a very lightweight and tiny alarm will be as loud as you need it to be (and whether it will get lost at the bottom of your bag). Some small alarms can still be very loud – although the sound may not last for very long – and can be easier to handle for some people. The best compromise is in an alarm which can fit easily into the palm of your hand but is still very loud (even if perhaps it isn’t as small and ‘dainty’ as you would like).
Ease of use also needs to be considered: how would you operate the alarm in an emergency? There are many different ways to activate different types of alarms including push caps, push buttons and pull out pins. How fiddly is it to locate the button and activate it? Do you have problems using your hands or fingers? If so, perhaps you might need to use both hands. Can it be operated simply by being pushed against something else?
The most common misconception is that a personal alarm is used to attract the attention of passers by. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on a personal alarm to do that for you. Firstly, there may not actually be anyone within earshot. Secondly, and most importantly, hearing an alarm does not necessarily encourage people to help. Often personal safety alarms pulsate, sounding like a car alarm. We are all used to hearing this sound, including potential attackers. How often do we ignore it thinking it’s a false alarm and annoying rather than a cause for concern?
The most effective sound is a loud continuous shriek: this is not a sound we usually hear, thus making the alarm better able to shock and disorientate. If you are able to attract the attention of passers by, you are more likely to get help if you shout a specific instruction – such as “Call the police!” – as this makes it clear that you are in danger and need help.
Remember that a personal alarm should be just one part of your personal safety plan: there are lots of other ways in which you can help yourself to avoid violence and aggression. Once you have set off your alarm, leave the situation as quickly as you can, moving to a busy area if possible. Don’t wait to check that your alarm has had the desired effect- just go.
For more tips and guidance on personal safety, send in an SAE for a free copy of our leaflet, ‘Living Safely’.
Alarms Currently on the Market
There are a number of different alarms on the market, including gas powered canisters and battery powered boxes and key rings. When considering which type of alarm you purchase, you need to consider what features are most important to your own circumstances.
Gas alarms: Benefits
The sound they make. The sound emitted is often very loud, long and shrill; it doesn’t usually pulsate, which tends to have more of an effect.
They are easy to operate. If you have difficulties manoeuvring your hands or fingers they are especially useful – by pushing the alarm against something, e.g. your thigh, you will be able to activate it without wasting time fiddling with buttons or pulling out cords.
You can check that there is still gas in the alarm by shaking it; there is no need to test it, thus using up the vital contents.
Gas alarms: Considerations
Some airlines do not allow gas canisters on board the plane. Check with your airline before flying to stay prepared and avoid confusion with officials.
Some smaller gas alarms are not able to produce such a loud sound; the larger the alarm, the more volume there is to create the pressure required for a loud noise.
Ensure that you keep a gas alarm out of very hot places (e.g. inside a car) or very cold places as the gas can expand and burst the canister.
Battery alarms: Benefits
They are, in general, smaller and easier to carry.
Some can be attached to a belt and can be activated whilst still attached. This could be useful for nurses, for example, who need to keep their hands free at all times.
Some can be attached to a door so that intrusion can be detected.
There are some which are very loud.
Battery alarms: Considerations
The sound from a battery alarm will pulsate. Weigh this up against the other considerations you need to make; it may still be the best compromise. Does the pulsating sound still sound different enough from other types of alarms we are used to hearing? Ensure the sound is loud enough to still have the desired effect.
There are many battery powered alarms with additional features, such as strobe and torch light. These can often distract you from the main purpose of the alarm. The most important feature is the sound. If the ‘extras’ impair the sound, you are probably better off without them.
To have the biggest effect, an alarm is best activated as close as possible to the attacker’s ear; if you leave a battery alarm on your belt, how will that effect it’s usage in an emergency?
Are you able to operate it easily? Pull-out cords and push buttons can sometimes be fiddly and could waste valuable time. Practice using one; perhaps you can come up with a clever way of activating it in a rush.
Don’t forget that you will need to test it regularly to check that the batteries are still working!