In a statement released July 8, APCO International expressed concerns about the serious implications of a new wooden magnetic wall paneling being marketed as a solution to “pesky” cell phones ringing in theaters and restaurants.

The announcement from Iwate University states that the new magnetic wood is packed with minute magnetic particles called nickel-zinc ferrite designed to block radio waves, and the new wood can be used to make doors and walls for rooms or even entire buildings.

“Blocking signals to limit cell phones from causing disruptions might seem like a benefit,” said APCO International President Glen Nash. “We are, however, urging people to consider the much more serious problem that would be created by blocking essential radio signals used by public safety personnel and the blocking of calls to 9-1-1. The loss of these critical emergency services would far outweigh the small benefit of silence in movie theaters.”

The availability of effective radio communications is an essential element in enabling police, fire and EMS workers to handle emergency situations quickly. Disrupting those radio communications would significantly complicate the response, potentially leading to increased harm to the public, including serious injury and death, according to the APCO statement.

APCO stated that there was no way to distinguish between an inappropriate cell phone call in a restaurant or theater and a call being made for a valid emergency purpose. Use of the cell phone to call 9-1-1 in times of emergency would also be disrupted by these “blocking” devices.

APCO said that it understands the social inconvenience caused by cell phones being used at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places. But a broad-brushed “solution” such as this wood paneling or the use of radio jamming devices at public facilities carries far too many negative implications to be a reasonable solution to the “behavioral problem.” Some additional information: