News & Views
19 May 2021

Noise monitoring in a pandemic:
How can continuous noise and vibration
monitoring help society during
the COVID-19 pandemic?

Global containment measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus have seemingly made the world much quieter. Seismologists are observing a lot less ambient seismic noise, the vibrations generated by cars, trains, buses and people going about their day.

As lockdown restrictions continue to change, we can expect noise levels to rise and fall in line with government rules. Because of this link, KP Acoustics forecasts noise and vibration monitoring will play an even bigger role in society, as a key datapoint in smart cities.

Thomas Lecocq, a geologist and seismologist at the Royal Observatory in Belgium, first pointed out this phenomenon in Brussels. The country has experienced a 30 to 50 per cent reduction in ambient seismic noise since mid-March, around the time school and business closures were implemented.

Old seismic stations that were once rendered ‘useless’ in busier times, have since been able to pick up on subtle vibrations in the ground. Lecocq said this newfound ability to detect subtle movement in the earth’s upper crust is evidence that people are listening to authorities’ warnings to stay inside. The data can also be used to identify where containment measures might not be as effective.

This highlights the potential of continuous noise and vibration monitoring sensing in the COVID-19 world. With the right devices, councils will be able to see at a glance an array of noise and vibration parameters on their computer or smartphone, with data collected from numerous sensors across the city.

This real-time data can inform local authorities of noise and vibration peaks in certain areas. Such peaks could indicate crowds in specific areas in a city, which may require intervention if breaking social distancing rules.

‘Isn’t that what CCTV cameras are for?’ I hear you ask. Well, one noise monitoring device covers a much greater area than a single CCTV camera, and does not require constant eyes on the screen.

A good noise and vibration monitoring system will alert you to changes as and when they happen. What’s more, it’s cheaper to purchase and run than a collection of cameras and offers quantitative data that can be analysed intelligently. Even small changes to average noise and vibration levels could indicate an impending problem, such as a growing crowd.

More positively, noise and vibration monitoring could play a big part in easing restrictions and protecting our economy. With high street retailers some of the hardest hit during the pandemic, noise and vibration monitoring could enable safer tourism and shopping. If a certain district becomes too busy, the public could be redirected to a different part of the city to ensure a more even distribution of people.

As noise and vibration monitoring joins the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem in smart city applications, it will provide a plethora of insight to both councils and businesses. It will instil confidence in the safety of our cities, which will likely lead to increased business and foot traffic.

It’s not all about surveillance

Noise and vibration monitoring has wellbeing at its heart. It protects people from dangerous levels of noise, and low level nuisance noise. The school full of young minds trying to absorb information. The hospital with patients endeavouring to fight illness and disease. Your elderly relative enjoying a visit from a friend. High noise levels can make life harder, and less enjoyable.

The only hurdle stopping local authorities from adopting such systems at present is the size and cost of noise and vibration monitoring equipment. While trained acousticians and surveyors have learned to manage the challenges of endless equipment and add-ons, for other professionals such as town planners or security officers, using this equipment can be off-putting. But this issue is about to be quashed by something very exciting taking place at KP Acoustics — watch this space.

So, what role do you think noise and vibration monitoring will have in the post-pandemic world?

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