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Screamers vs. Panic Buttons

According to a 2016 survey of 500 Chicago hotel workers, 58% have experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment by guests when they were at work. That’s up to twice the rate experienced by workers in other industries, and a worrying trend for those in hospitality.  Additionally, anecdotal reports indicate a rising trend involving finding drugs and firearms in guest rooms adding to the risks hotel workers are encountering. 

The issue has become so acute that over the past few years, an increasing number of cities and states have introduced rules and regulations requiring hotels to take several actions, a critical one being to provide employees with personal safety devices.  It’s not just legislative actions driving this trend.  Over 5 dozen major hotel brands and management companies and the predominant union representing hotel workers have also made commitments to improving hotel worker safety. 

One of the mandated requirements involves issuing location-based employee safety devices, more commonly called panic buttons, to employees who work in remote areas of the facility. Location-enabled panic buttons provide a personal security solution that allows employees to call for help quickly and in some cases discretely if they find themselves threatened, assaulted, or in a dangerous situation; often providing the fastest way to get assistance.  

While most forward-thinking hotels that take the risk seriously are deploying full panic button solutions, in the past, some have opted for high-decibel audible alarms, also known as ‘screamers’ or ‘noise-makers’. Unlike panic buttons, which, if properly designed and implemented provide location-enabled hotel security with the employee’s exact location so they can provide help quickly and easily, screamers emit a loud noise to hopefully attract passers-by. Nearby guests or employees are then expected to use this noise to find the worker in distress and provide the required assistance. 

Although screamers can work in some situations, they have several serious drawbacks that can impact the safety of employees and guests alike. Here, we take a closer look at the most important differences between screamers and location based panic buttons that show clearly why more advanced panic button solutions are required for the 21st-century hotel.  

Key Differences and Deal-breakers – Screamers vs. Location Enabled Panic Buttons

Sound Attenuation and Summonsing Assistance

Part of the problem lies in the nature of hotel work itself, with employees often isolated from other members of staff. As a result, screamers can go unheard and unanswered, even in relatively small hotels.  

Screamers emit sounds at approximately 130 decibels – a considerable noise, if you are standing near them. The typical speaking voice is 55 decibels. However, sound attenuates over distance and as it passes through building materials. A typical residential wood and drywall wall construction will reduce the signal by 30-40 decibels per wall. Concrete ceilings and floors will attenuate the signal by 50 -70 decibels. 

Therefore, in a typical hotel with concrete floors and ceilings and wood and drywall walls, the signal will be virtually imperceptible beyond one room up or down and 2-3 rooms over. If someone is not within the immediate area, activating the screamer will have no effect in summonsing help. 

Housekeepers are often using loud equipment like vacuum cleaners, the noise of screamers can be muffled and hard to identify. This can make it very difficult for other employees to pinpoint the location of the person calling for help making the devices virtually useless. 


One often-cited advantage of screamers is that the loud noise will act as a deterrent to would-be attackers. This works well in parking lots and parks where there is a route to flee.  However, in an enclosed space, like a hotel room, it is equally likely that a motivated assailant or angry guest may be tempted to escalate the incident and physically remove the screamer from the employee’s possession. This, in fact, is the opposite of the desired effect and could put the employee in even more danger.  

Location-enabled panic buttons, on the other hand, help to solve some of these issues. Firstly, properly designed and implemented wireless panic buttons provide hotel security with the exact place of the person in distress. This means that security or other employees can attend to potential issues quickly and efficiently, no matter how isolated the worker or how loud their equipment is. 

Secondly, the “silent alarm” of this type of panic button allows employees to call for help without drawing even more attention. This has the potential to minimize antagonism of potentially dangerous individuals while also allowing employees to call for assistance during other incidents such as loud groups or suspicious behavior from guests.  

Here is a testimony from the healthcare sector. The National Health Service of the UK, in their Crime Science Journal reports: 

“Simple audible alarm devices (screamers) are not based on the expectation that they will produce assistance from third parties. Rather, they are primarily intended to create a distraction to allow the worker time to get away from a potentially violent situation… Some experts advise personal audible alarms are more suitable for outdoor use due to the potential risk of escalating a situation indoors and their use now is more limited. It has been suggested that alarm systems that rely on the use of whistles or screams are ineffective and dangerous in in-patient or psychiatric settings and coded, silent alarms triggering a response (as with a panic button) are more desirable in this setting.” 

Legal Requirements

Over the past few years, an increasing number of cities and states have introduced rules and regulations requiring hotels to provide employees with personal safety devices. Areas with ordinances already in place include Miami Beach, Chicago and Seattle, as well as parts of California, New York and New Jersey. 

Screamers have been in use in hotels since as early as 2009 (before location-based devices were available) in response to compliance requirements around staff safety. However, their efficacy was limited, and this led to unions advocating for more specificity in legislation. 

In order to remove any ambiguity and make a real difference to the safety of hotel employees, a number of cities and states have clarified the language used in their ordinances. For example, Miami Beach sent out a letter in 2019 warning hotels that “Devices such as ‘noisemakers’ do not meet the requirements set forth in the ordinance, as they simply emit a loud noise and do not disclose the location of the employee in need of prompt assistance.” 

This announcement came soon after the Miami Herald tested a screamer and showed just how ineffective and potentially dangerous these devices can be. This test proved that even with colleagues nearby calls for help can go unanswered, leaving employees to face harassment, assault, and other situations alone. 

Key high-level compliance requirements since the Miami legislation includes:  

  1. Reliable geolocation capability with the ability to locate associates to room-level accuracy 
  2. System coverage in all public spaces (restrooms, spa treatment rooms, housekeeping closets, etc.) and guest rooms/floors 
  3. Associates regularly in direct contact with guests should receive device 
  4. For union hotels, the device cannot track staff members unless the button is pressed 

Learn more about the benefits of panic buttons and how ROAR is redefining the industry standard by exploring our site or getting in touch with a member of the team to discuss your requirements.  

About Author

Yasmine Mustafa

Yasmine Mustafa believes ROAR found her, not the other way around. A former refugee and undocumented immigrant, she draws upon her unique life experiences to lead ROAR in its mission to empower and protect workers across all industries. Her journey is a testament to resilience and unwavering commitment. With over 15 years of leadership in the tech industry, including the successful sale of her first company, 123LinkIt, to a firm in Silicon Valley in 2009, Yasmine is a driving force for positive change, balancing profits with purpose. Yasmine’s workplace safety advocacy and leadership have earned recognition from the BBC, CNBC’s Upstart 100 and the City of Philadelphia. Yasmine is a highly sought-after conference speaker. A two-time TEDx speaker, Yasmine has also presented at the prestigious SXSW and CES conferences, sharing her deep passion for harnessing technology for positive change. Beyond her professional life, Yasmine enjoys time spent with friends and family, exploring the outdoors, biking, and hiking. She also dedicates her time to the boards of Coded by Kids, Leadership Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies.

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