Making a Cry for Help Heard



Did you know that shouting or screaming “help” might not be enough? Too many crime victims’ pleas have gone unheard or simply have been ignored and they have paid a terrible price — sometimes their very lives. The world record for the volume of a human scream is 112 decibels, but most of us are challenged to break a hundred decibels even under the best of circumstances. What’s more, the frequency the human voice typically falls into is the same range as everyday background noise — the TV or radio or traffic on the street outside. A key to surviving a potentially violent encounter is to make your cry for help heard and very difficult for others to ignore. This post explores (briefly) some inexpensive tools you can use to make sure that if you call for help, someone is more likely to hear you and answer.

Why is having the capacity to be loud and annoying so important?

A neighbor recently shared a frightening incident in which she was walking her dog at an odd hour and found herself being accosted by an unknown male. This potential attacker started asking questions which my friend could not answer… not because they were difficult, but because she had laryngitis and was unable to speak. Her lack of response made this potential attacker bolder and my neighbor’s dogwalk suddenly became a cat-and-mouse chase… with my neighbor the mouse. My neighbor summoned enough of her voice to call 911 on her cellphone and ask the police for help, and did some very intelligent things to keep this potential attacker at bay until help arrived. But her experience highlighted the need to make sure one can call for help when it is required, no matter what.

Criminals are cowards and seek the easy mark. Screaming for help may be (incorrectly) perceived as a sign of weakness and make an attack or assault more likely. However, when faced with ear-splitting noise in a frequency range uncomfortable to human hearing, many potential attackers are going to go looking for an easier mark. The trick is to include an appropriate noisemaker in one’s personal security kit, know when to use it, and know how to use it even in the grip of panic. A quick burst of loud and annoying noise may be enough in itself to drive off a potential attacker, and will be much easier for people in surrounding homes and businiesses to hear than someone yelling or screaming as the frequency of the noise will penetrate even storm windows and insulation.

Personal Security Alarms

These keychain-sized devices can produce 120 decibels of jarring, broad-spectrum, high-frequency noise at the press of a button. Some models incorporate other useful tools such as flashlights or pepper spray. Others are activated by pulling a pin and can’t be turned off unless the pin is reinserted. Costs vary but generally are below $10.

Air Horns

Remember the guy at the football game that would set one of these off every time the opposing team made a touchdown? Remember how loud it was? How annoying? Those features make personal or portable air horns perfect for making your cry for help heard. Sold in smaller sizes better suited for carry in pocket, purse or clipped to a belt, these small screamers can produce prolonged bursts of sound of up to 120 decibels. These devices can be used to produce a morse-code S-O-S pattern (short-short-short, long-long-long, short-short-short-short) that most adults will recognize instantly as a sign someone is in trouble and will last as long as they contain propellant. Prices vary, but these can be had for under $10.


For those who prefer low-tech (or merely classical) options, consider a basic safety whistle. These can produce a distinctive and penetrating sound of up to 115 decibels and are will work so long as one can blow. Like the air horn discussed above, these can be used to produce a morse-code S-O-S pattern (short-short-short, long-long-long, short-short-short-short) that most adults will recognize instantly as a sign someone is in trouble. While some whistles come with (pardon the pun…) some bells and whistles like compasses or small flashlights built in, most of these available for sale will look like what gym teachers still use to terrify non-athletic schoolchildren today. Whistles are very inexpensive — I have yet to see one priced above $5.

The Bottom Line

Any of these tools will help you make a cry for help heard better. The “right one” depends on a combination of cost, ergonomics and personal preference. An asthma sufferer may not want to choose a whistle. Someone with arthritis may not want to consider an air horn. As inexpensive as these are, one can buy-and-try and not break the bank if the right one turns out to be the last one tried.

One important note — all of these devices can produce volumes capable of damaging hearing… yours as well as your attackers. Please be careful when using these and, if you can, make absolutely sure to aim them away from you both for maximum effect and to give your ears the best chance to avoid serious trauma.


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