Public Announcement

Whether it’s for an outdoor event, as part of a building’s health and safety requirements, to assist in fire drills or to communicate with customers, many companies around the globe make use of PA system hire to broadcast important messages for all to hear.

But sometimes, those messages are not what you’d expect! Here we take a look at some cases from around the world where public announcement systems made the news – from pornographic pranksters and Chinese phone scammers, to an unusual form of bird conservation.

US superstore Target branches attacked by pornographic pranksters

In-store announcements aren’t usually the kind of thing that raises your eyebrows, but in 2015, several Target stores were attracting all the wrong kinds of attention when what sounded like the audio track from a particularly risqué piece of film where blasted out in several of their stores in separate incidents. In one case, in Campbell, a small city just south of San Jose, the audio played out for over 15 minutes – causing many shoppers to abandon their purchases and leave the store up in arms.

In another incident, staff had no choice but to evacuate the store entirely. But how was this happening in the first place, and why were staff not able to stop it? It turns out the weakness lies in how their intercom and PA system were designed, which allows a phone call (from a worried parent looking for their missing child, for example) to be played over the in-store speakers. The problem is that no-one ever imagined this otherwise very sensible system might be taken advantage of by those with somewhat more malicious intent!

And in a similar incident across the pond…

Rail passengers subjected to saucy sounds as ‘porn’ plays over the public address system of a London train 

When passengers embarked on their normal Wandsworth-to-Clapham commute on a Friday morning in May earlier this year, they had little idea their journey would be accompanied by a rather saucy soundtrack! While South Western Railway apologized and said they were investigating the incident, it’s not yet understood (by the public at least) how exactly the incident came to take place.

One passenger, Paul Brunton, shared the event over Twitter, complete with video which includes fellow passengers wondering whether the source of the sounds was the driver simply forgetting to turn the tannoy off!

And now, thankfully, for something entirely different…

PA system in Australia used to attract sea birds back to coastal islands 

While we may not have designed them for creatures other than humans, PA systems can have some pretty surprises uses!

The accidental introduction by humans of rats to islands off the coast of Port Stephens, Australia, was devastating for the island’s indigenous bird species – white-faced storm petrels and Gould’s petrel. On many of the larger islands, they eventually stopped nesting altogether, restricted to small islands where rats and rabbits couldn’t spread.

In 2017 and a first for Australia, scientists from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) began experimenting with using a set of speakers, which would play the calls of specific seabirds, in an effort to lure them back. If successful, the birds will find specially set up nesting boxes waiting for them.

Ornithologists in the UK have been using a similar system to catch, ring and record storm petrels before releasing them. The scientists play the sound of a breeding colony over speakers at night, when gulls (the petrels’ chief predator) are less active.

Chinese ‘robocall’ broadcast over a public address system at a US National Weather Service office in Maryland

While the US Federal Trade Commission warned the public about ‘robocalls’ from Chinese scammers in April of 2018, one such call managed to attract a little more attention – by broadcasting itself over the public address system at a branch of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration!

While the call didn’t compromise any of the NOAA’s IT or data systems, it was certainly an unnerving experience for the employees working at the Maryland branch at the time, especially considering the PA system is rarely used outside of fire drills!

These types of scam calls generally purport to be from the Chinese consulate, luring the intended victim in by saying they have a package to be collected – which was the case in this call to the NOAA.

From causing blushes on public transport and during the grocery run, to helping to preserve the environment, one thing’s for sure – we’ll never view the humble public announcement system quite the same way!