By Derek Spalding, Nanaimo Daily News (Nanaimo, BC, Canada)
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2008
An annoying high-frequency sound, perceivable only to teenagers and adolescents, continues to grow in popularity in western Canada and could soon be used to prevent vandalism at schools in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district.
The device, dubbed the Mosquito, repels loiterers and unwanted troublemakers by emitting an unavoidably aggravating noise that only the average 13-to-25-year-old person can hear. The high-pitch frequency comes from small square devices, about the size of a stock car-door speaker, and they're appearing on pub exteriors, schools and near public transportation.
The Mac's convenience store chain introduced them in several Lower Mainland stores in 2006, changing the face of their clientele almost overnight.
Business owners and city councillors who face problems of loitering drug users, dawdling teenagers, and pesky vandals testify to the effectiveness of the Mosquito, first introduced to North America by Dynatrac Systems in August 2006. Imported from the United Kingdom, the device has saved school districts thousands of dollars every year and has completely re-energized one Vancouver bar.
Nanaimo's school trustees have not decided on which methods they will use to tackle the growing vandalism problems at schools -- the cost reached $150,000 in 2006-07 -- but testimonies from the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district could influence their decision.
"It's worked quite well over there and we need to do something," said board of education chairman Jamie Brennan.
Convenience stores and popular urban centres have long been a stomping ground for drug dealers and loiterers. Mac's convenience stores tried everything from opera music to security guards to deter the unwanted activity, but always the teens came back.
Several storefronts changed, however, because of the Mosquito. The 18-to-20-kilohertz frequency makes youngsters cringe. The Douglas Street location in Victoria has an "entirely" different clientele since installing the device in August 2006, according to Geoff Higuchi, Mac's B.C. operation manager. Other stores did the same: Two in Richmond, one in Port Moody and one in Mission.
Pubs have also seen a drop in drug use, vandalism and other unwanted behaviour because of the Mosquito. When Vancouver pub 57 Below opened next to the New Westminster SkyTrain station in 2006, manager Lisa Deacon constantly had to escort clientele outside and chase off others hanging around outside. People "hung out in places you would never imagine," she explained.
The pub owner bought the innovative device and she never again had to confront anyone.
"They don't know what it is. They just leave," she said. "You watch them and you just laugh. They find it annoying, it's kind of sick."
Public officials have also had success with the device.
City staff in Castlegar installed the device to rid their downtown of inebriated youngsters after the town's largest nightclub lets out after 1 a.m. School districts teach anyone who will listen about the Mosquito, but as some staff explain, other innovative methods work just as well -- sprinklers being one popular and effective strategy.
School districts in B.C. had to come up with innovative ways to reduce the age-old problem of vandalism, especially as they struggle to balance their books every year. Vandals cost the Nanaimo- Ladysmith school district $150,000 in 2006-07 and already the bill for 2007-08 has reached $110,000.
Not all vandalism can be blamed on youth, but targeting people between 13 and 25 reduces repair bills significantly.
Nanaimo RCMP investigate plenty of vandalism in and around schools. Const. Jen Allan said a "significant number" of perpetrators have been teenagers.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district tackled its annual $450,000 vandalism bill in 2006 when they installed the Mosquito and sprinklers at some schools, reducing repair bills by about $85,000 in the first year.
Secretary-treasurer Don Woytowich said vandal soaking is the district's innovative invention. Motion detectors set off a sprinkler system attached to the school and they spray five gallons of water per minute.
"Vandalism in those schools has virtually disappeared," he said. "Kids won't stay around if they're wet and uncomfortable."
The Mosquito has appeared in four Lower Mainland school districts, according to Mike Gibson of Dynatrac Systems. He has also sold one to Metrotown shopping centre in Burnaby and two others to Calgary Transit, which will likely sit on C-Train platforms after hours.
For the $1,300 price tag, it's a worthwhile investment, according to those who use it. With exclusive rights to the product, anyone in North America will have to purchase the Mosquito through Dynatrac.
The irritating noise only annoys people younger than 25 because of natural changes to people's hearing as they age.