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September 12, 2020
Personal Alarms - Everything you need to know in 2020

15

minute read

Intro to this guide

This guide has been put together as a resource for anyone who is looking to purchase a personal alarm for themselves or someone they know. It pulls together all of the knowledge we have gathered in the last year while building Noti - The smart safety necklace.

Contents

What is a personal alarm?

Who are personal alarms for?

  • Personal alarms and panic buttons for young women
  • Lone worker alarms and trackers
  • Personal alarms for elderly people
  • Personal alarms and panic buttons for children
  • GPS trackers and emergency buttons for lone sports enthusisasts

Types of personal alarm

  • Rape alarms
  • Discreet alarms
  • Alarms with 24hr monitoring services
  • GPS devices

How efective are personal alarms at preventing attacks

Safety apps vs personal alarms

  • What is a safety app?
  • Advantages
  • Disadvantages

Psychological effects of personal alarms

What is a personal alarm?

A personal alarm is a device which helps you call for help if you find yourself in danger or in a difficult situation. The types of different alarms and the different situations they can be used in range massively from large radio style alarms used by hikers, to small and discreet pieces of smart jewellery used by young women.

Who are personal alarms for?

Because there are so many different types of personal alarms, and so many different uses for them, we’ll first break down who might want to use a personal alarm. These categories can be very different, but they all have one thing in common; they are restricted by fear.

Fear can come in many forms, like an elderly person worrying that they may have a bad fall or someone worrying they may be attacked on their walk home. Often-times people can use personal alarms as a safety net or fall back in case something happens to them; to make them feel more comfortable and confident rather than afraid.

Below we will explore the following use cases for personal alarms;

  • Young women
  • Lone workers
  • Elderly People
  • Children
  • Lone sports enthusiasts

Personal alarms and panic buttons for young women

Often times you will find young women caring personal alarms or rape alarms. We talk about why a bit more in our articles about the [problem of female fears](problem of female fears) and [why we started to build Noti](why we started to build Noti ) - the smart safety necklace, but basically, because of what is projected onto females from a young age, they begin to develop a very specific fear. A fear of sexual assault.

This makes a lot of sense when you look at all of the information we see in the news and hear from our schools and police forces about sexual assault cases. This fear can often restrict what women do and force them to change their behaviour for fear of their safety, and sometimes this can come in the form of carrying a personal alarm for self defence.

Undoubtably this is a terrible issue and not one that will be fixed by people carrying physical devices, but if doing so can help you to feel safer and more confident then it is doing a lot of good! Devices for young women generally come in the form of more traditional rape alarms, and sometimes bluetooth buttons. We're making something a little different with Noti but I'll let you check that out below if you're interested!

Examples of personal alarms for young women

personal alarm safety necklace silver noti
Noti - The smart safety necklace

rape alarm personal alarm
Siren style rape alarms, Source Amazon.com

Lone worker alarms and trackers

Lone workers are people whose jobs require them to work alone or in isolated situations. There are many different types of roles which may require someone to carry out their work alone, such as, care workers, windfarm engineers, hotel cleaning staff, and more.

Working alone can come with many risks depending on the role, for example, many hotel cleaning staff personnel have reported being attacked at work. Because of this, employers will often provide their staff members with personal alarms for their safety.

In this application, personal alarms often have some more unique features. For example the tended alarm below can also be used as an activity tracker! Most of these alarms will have a monitoring service attached for 24/7 support in case of an emergency. Some will also have a check in service which will trigger an alert if the staff member does not check in at regular intervals. They can even be hidden inside of ID badges so that only the employee knows they are wearing an alarm!

Examples of personal alarms for lone workers

personal alarm tracker for lone workers
Skyguard microSOS lone worker alarm

personal alarm and activity tracker for lone workers
tended activity tracker and lone worker personal alarm

Personal alarms for elderly people

As we start to get older, both our bodies and minds begin to become more fragile. This can put us at a much higher risk of seriously injuring ourselves from falls which would normally cause us very little harm. It can also become much more difficult for us to regain our footing after falling which can be a big issue for people who live alone.

To help prevent injuries or help in the case of an emergency with an elderly person, there are a range of devices available. These devices can come with special features to detect falls or wandering users (for users with dementia or other conditions which may cause them to become confused and wander), and often work as part of a system within the user’s house.

Almost always, these personal alarms also come with a monitoring service. This will usually call a 24/7 monitoring service which can be linked to emergency services, but can also be connected to family members.

However, one of the often overlooked use cases of these devices is for communication. For elderly relatives who are retired and live alone, life can become quite lonely. Aside from acting as a safety net, a call alarm can be a direct contact link to family members for some much needed social connection. Although this may seem a nuisance to some family members, loneliness can sometimes be even more dangerous than a fall.

Examples of personal alarms for elderly people

personal alarm wristband for elderly people
buddi personal safety wristband for elderly

personal fall alarm for elderly blue
SureSafe personal fall alarm for elderly

Personal alarms and panic buttons for children

All parents worry about their children, especially these days, with all of the terrible news stories we hear about kidnappings and abductions of young children. Some of the more rudimentary designs of personal alarms for kids are shaped like footballs or teddy bears and let off a loud siren when activated in the hope of distracting or disorientating an abductor. These alarms can be attached to their schoolbags or waistbands. However, there are also more sophisticated devices like the 'My Gator Watch' which has an associated app that can transmit location data. It can even hold two way voice calls.

Examples of personal alarms for children

childrens personal alarm football style
Kids siren alarm football shape, source Amazon.com

personal safety watch for kids
my Gator watch, safety location device for kids

GPS trackers and emergency buttons for lone sports enthusiasts

These devices are a little lesser known, as there are usually used by sports enthusiasts who travel alone; the likes of long distance cyclists or hikers. These personal alarms are usually much more complex and larger than the others above, and are more akin to simple phones with some text message functionality built in. They are primarily used to transmit location using GPS in the event of an accident or if someone becomes lost. goTenna also offer a slightly more unique solution which uses a bluetooth mesh to connect a group of adventurers so they always know where each other are.

Examples of personal alarms for lone sports enthusiasts

garmin inReach mini GPS personal alarm
Garmin inReach mini GPS locator

goTenna Bluetooth personal alarm sports
goTenna Mesh bluetooth mesh personal locator

Types of personal alarm

Rape alarms

  • Form factor - Small plastic devices that can be clipped to bags or clothing. Usually have a button or pull chord and let off a loud siren when activated.
  • Advantages - Cheap, have been used to some degree of success in the past.
  • Disadvantages - Can sometimes be hard to get to if kept in bag, last line of defence, not discreet, may not let anyone know you are in trouble, rely on disorientating an attacker with sound, can be considered embarrassing for some, can be easily left behind.
  • Best use case - Last line of defence in an attack.
  • Cost - £5-15

Discreet alarms

  • Form factor - Can be disguised as jewellery or name tags. Usually have some form of location or messaging function which can be activated with a button press.
  • Advantages - Discreet, can be used to remove yourself from a situation before it has escalated, usually very quick and easy to activate if around the neck or wrist, only the user knows it is there, easier to carry/remember to take with you, makes direct contact with someone you trust to let them know you need help.
  • Disadvantages - No loud siren for attack situations, not cheap.
  • Best use case - Peace of mind or to remove yourself from a threatening situation before anything happens.
  • Cost - £100-200

Alarms with 24hr monitoring services

  • Form factor - Usually plastic button which hangs around the neck or wrist. Connected to a basestation which can be used to contact a subscription service that can notify family members or the emergency services in the event of an emergency. Often used for elderly people who live at home alone. Some may have ‘wandering detection’ features for patients with dementia or fall detection for those prone to falls.
  • Advantages - Can be very effective to alert when someone is in need of immediate help, usually very accessible on the wrist or around the neck, provide a lot of peace of mind for both the user and their relatives
  • Disadvantages - Can be considered embarrassing for some, not very discreet, some alarms do not account for the user potentially being unconscious after a fall
  • Best use case - Elderly person living at home alone and is prone to falling or has a condition which may make it unsafe for them to wander or be by themselves or lone workers in remote or isolated working conditions.
  • Cost - £10-30/month (sometimes with an upfront fee also)

GPS devices

  • Form factor - Ranges from 'walkie talkie' style plastic design with small LCD screen to small devices with no controls or buttons that are operated through a mobile phone app. Connect to a GPS satellite in order to gain the user's position. This position may be used to show their position on a map to someone else or as a distress call. These devices sometimes also come with simple SMS functionality.
  • Advantages - Can be feature rich and provide accurate location data, can work in areas without cellular service as GPD works off a different signal.
  • Disadvantages - Short battery life, can be quite large, likely will not work indoors, can be hard to get to if buried in a bag.
  • Best use case - Hikers or adventure sports enthusiasts who will be travelling to remote locations alone or in small groups.
  • Cost - £200-700

A note on cost: sometimes local councils and police services can help out with the cost of buying a personal alarm. Be sure to check with your local council to see if they can offer you some financial assistance.

How effective are personal alarms at preventing attacks?

Personal alarms, and more specifically rape alarms, are often seen as a useful method of preventing attacks. But how well do they actually do this? Obviously every situation is very different, from the physical difference between an attacker and a victim to how many people are in the area, so it would be impossible to say if a rape alarm would always either work or not work.

In general, most attack prevention alarms rely on a loud siren. This siren is used as a last line of defence when an attack has been initiated. According to The Suzy Lampugh Trust, ‘It is a common misconception that alarms will attract others as, if there is no one around, or others are far from us, they may not be attracted to the sound. Also if a personal alarm pulsates like many car alarms, the sound may not be recognisable as an attack alarm’. The loud sound that these devices emit is actually used to shock or stun an attacker and give you enough time to fight back or escape.

Of course, sometimes the sound of a rape alarm can attract people to help if they are willing and able. In any case, the ease of access to the activation button can also play a large role in whether it is pressed in the first place, and thus heard. Having the loudest siren in the world won’t be of any use if it’s buried at the bottom of a handbag, whereas, something around your neck or on a keychain will always be a lot quicker to hand. And of course this information is only useful if you can get to the alarm in the first place.

As for whether the noise works or not, this is very much so up for debate. From scanning online forms there are many accounts from people who have activated a rape alarm and yielded either good or bad results. The most effective form of attack prevention will always be vigilance and self awareness, enabling you to act to remove yourself from a situation before anything happens at all.

Unlike the noise based alarms, silent alarms take a different approach - they are used in an uncomfortable or threatening situation before anything happens, and promote vigilance. They are much more suitable to this use case as they are far more discreet, emitting no notable noise at all. Some of these alarms also disguise themselves to blend in with what you would normally wear.

One such example is Noti - the smart safety necklace, which looks and acts like a regular necklace until it is needed. If the wearer does find themselves in an uncomfortable situation which they want to get out of, they can silently press the button on the front of the necklace as if they are playing with their jewellery. This will send a message and their location to a set of pre-selected contacts, and can be used to trigger a phonecall or some form of action.

Of course personal alarms are just another tool you can use to either be safer or just give yourself some peace of mind when you travel alone, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you carry if it makes you feel safer and more confident!

P.S. If you want to learn a bit more about how you can be more situationally aware and look out for signs a threat may be looming, we highly recommend The Gift of Fear. This book shows you how most attacks are actually quite preventable and shows you how to watch out for warning signals which can help you get ready if you do need to use your personal alarm.

Safety apps vs personal alarms

What is a safety app?

Personal alarms also exist in the virtual world in the form of smartphone apps. These apps vary in complexity but most have a large button which can be used to trigger a message to a pre-set group of contacts. The can also include features to learn your movements and alert people when you vary from you everyday routine, although more complex features usually come with paid or subscription based apps as opposed to the free ones.

These apps may seem like a great alternative to a personal alarm, and maybe they are for some people. After all, we all carry our phones with us almost everywhere we go these days. To help you decide if an app or an alarm is better for you, we’ve made a list of the advantages and disadvantages of a safety app are when compared to a physical personal alarm.

Personal safety app button
Screenshot from bsafe personal safety app

Advantages

  • Some are free
  • Can have more features (at least at the minute)
  • You will usually be carrying your phone anyway

Disadvantages

  • Can be less discreet than some hidden alarms
  • Much less accessible than a physical button i.e. will take longer to get to when you need it
  • Not much difference to sending a text message from your phone
  • Pay walls can prevent you from accessing some of the more complex features

We’ll leave the final decision up to you, and as always, whatever makes you feel happier, more confident, and safer is what matters most!

Psychological effects of personal alarms

We struggled to find any solid psychological studies which analysed the effects of carrying a personal safety device, however, we’ve spoken to some of our friends and some STAND supporters and think we have an idea of what the impacts are, so here is our take.

Increased confidence

  • Feeling unsafe can take a huge toll on our confidence. It more than often causes people to avoid certain areas or activities for fear of something bad happening to them. When we carry a personal alarm or another type of safety device, we can help to reduce this fear and be a little more fearless in our lives.

Peace of mind for user and others

  • Of course if you feel safer it is somewhat of a given that you have some peace of mind for your wellbeing, but what about the people that care about you? This one is often overlooked, but we all have parents or girlfriends/boyfriends and friends that worry about where we are, and if we are safe. Personal alarms, especially those that can contact these people if we do need them (or just to let them know we’re okay), can provide a great deal of peace of mind for these people who care about us.

Decreased anxiety

  • Sources of worry and anxiety are everywhere, whether it’s work, school, relationships or social anxiety, not to mention anxiety caused by the peril in the world that is broadcasted across most news channels (I’m personally very news adverse because of this, but that’s a story for another day). Anxiety can have terrible effects on us and our ability to relax and be ourselves, and one thing is for sure, we can all do with a little less. Carrying a personal alarm and not having to worry so much about getting home safe can help to take the toll off a bit.

We hope you enjoyed this guide on everything personal alarms. We've been gathering this information over the last year in an attempt to make our own range of personal alarms, with the goal of making the world a little more fearless! We're starting with Noti - The smart safety necklace. Check it out if you're interested.

Also, if you think we missed anything let us know and we can add it in so all our viewers can be a little wiser!

Ben Lindsay

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