Today's news

  • ISISU.S. air strikes kill three top ISIS leaders

    U.S. officials said yesterday that a U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq have killed three of the top leaders of Islamic State (ISIS), but not the group’s senior commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Among those killed was Abd al Basit, who was described by officials as the group’s military “emir,” and Haji Mutazz, a deputy to Baghdadi. The strikes took place between 3 December and 9 December, the officials said.

  • Disaster recoveryComplaints grow about New Mexico’s handling of emergencies, disaster relief

    New Mexico’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM)wasformed in 2007 by consolidating the state’s Office of Homeland Security and the Emergency Management Division. It is responsible for coordinating emergency and disaster relief efforts with all levels of government, providing training to emergency managers, and analyzing security threats. DHSEM, however, has a history of failing to respond swiftly to disaster related requests, according to internal reports, e-mails, audits, and interviews with current and former employees.

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  • Disaster recoveryPlacing people in affordable homes within days, not years, after major storms

    On Monday, Housing and Urban Developmentsecretary Julian Castro toured the core of a house in Brownsville, Texas, as part of the RAPIDO project, which local officials hope will one day become the model for housing recovery after a major storm. The house is part of a $2 million pilot project which relies on low construction expenses and affordable labor to get people in affordable homes within days of a major disaster instead of years. While hundreds of affordable homes have been built since Hurricane Dolly and Ike destroyed a vast portion of the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008, many residents are still waiting for houses already funded with federal disaster money.

  • Nuclear powerIndustry: Multiple redundant and back-up systems make nuclear plants safer than ever

    Nuclear plants receive what supporters of nuclear power regard as an unfair amount of scrutiny and concern for their safety, but industry experts say that plant equipment and plant operations are highly regulated to minimize risks.All U.S. nuclear plants are now storing emergency pumps, generators, battery banks, chargers, compressors, and hoses at off-site locations near the plants to protect against floods, industry insiders say.Working in a nuclear plant is much safer than working in a paper mill or a chemical plant, according to Jim Krafty, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) resident senior inspector at the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania.

  • RadicalizationRadicalization and the lone wolf: what we do and don’t know

    By Anne Aly

    Even with the growing body of empirical research contributing to understanding radicalization, cases such as that of Man Haron Monis raise questions about whether individual actors, known as “lone wolves,” are terrorists, violent extremists, radicals, or simply lone gun men. Contrary to popular belief, ideology and religion play a less important role in radicalization. Current research indicates that the emotional appeal to personal identity and group solidarity are far more significant factors in radicalization. What recent lone-wolf cases — Man Haron Monis in Sydney, Canadian Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Anders Breivik in Norway, and Mohammed Merah in France — tell us is that, unlike the strategic model of terrorism as a rational choice to carry out acts of violence in the name of a cause, these modern-day lone-wolf terrorists may be more like lone gunmen than terrorists.

  • EbolaImproved protective suit for Ebola caregivers

    An advanced protective suit for health care workers who treat Ebola patients, devised by a Johns Hopkins University team, is one of the first five awardees in a federal funding contest aimed at quickly devising new tools to combat the deadly disease. The JHU prototype is designed to do a better job than current garments in keeping health care workers from coming in contact with Ebola patients’ contagious body fluids, both during treatment and while removing a soiled suit. In addition, it is expected to keep the wearer cooler — an important benefit in hot, humid regions such as West Africa.

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  • Public healthPreventing animal-borne diseases from affecting humans

    Roughly 75 percent of newly emerging diseases are zoonotic, which means that they can spread from animals to humans. Incredibly damaging, these diseases usually wreak havoc on humans, who rarely have natural defenses to protect them against such strains. About 2.7 million people die each year from zoonotic diseases. It is estimated that between 1997 and 2009, the cost of dealing with and treating these types of diseases around the world amounted roughly $80 billion. Scientists hope that by connecting human medical and veterinary science, and by organizing and establishing different medical professionals along a spectrum of disease detection, it would be possible to thwart the outbreak of another zoonotic disease.

  • FloodsBetter forecasts for rain-on-snow flooding

    Many of the worst West Coast winter floods pack a double punch. Heavy rains and melting snow wash down the mountains together to breach river banks, wash out roads and flood buildings. These events are unpredictable and difficult to forecast. Yet they will become more common as the planet warms and more winter precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Mountain hydrology experts are using the physics behind these events to better predict the risks.

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  • Planetary securityBe prepared: What to do if an asteroid is heading our way

    Last month, experts from European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program and Europe’s national disaster response organizations met for a two-day exercise on what to do if an asteroid is ever found to be heading our way. The exercise considered the threat from an imaginary, but plausible, asteroid, initially thought to range in size from twelve meters to thirty-eight meters — spanning roughly the range between the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst and the 1908 Tunguska event — and travelling at 12.5 km/s. Teams were challenged to decide what should happen at five critical points in time, focused on 30, 26, 5, and 3 days before and one hour after impact.

  • Sony hackingU.S. says evidence ties North Korea to Sony cyberattack

    U.S. intelligence agencies said they have concluded that the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the attacks on Sony’s computers. This conclusion, which will likely be confirmed today (Thursday) by the Justice Department, was leaked to the media only hours after Sony, on Wednesday, canceled the Christmas release of the comedy — the only known instance of a threat by a nation-state pre-empting the release of a movie. Senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the White House was still debating whether publicly and officially to accuse North Korea of the cyberattack.

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  • Sony hackingSony cancels Christmas release of “The Interview”

    Sony Pictures announced it has cancelled the Christmas release of “The Interview,” the a film at the center of a hacking campaign, after dire threats to moviegoers and a decision by major movie theater groups to cancel screenings in the United States. “Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private e-mails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale — all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like,” the company said in a statement.

  • Public healthMurder charges against leaders of compounding company whose adulterated product killed 64

    In the fall of 2012, 751 people in twenty states fell ill and sixty-four died from a fungal meningitis outbreak shortly after receiving injections of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate produced at the New England Compounding Center (NECC), a Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy. Fourteen people connected to NECC are facing a 131-count indictment, with Barry Cadden, co-founder of the company, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who ran the sterile room, facing second-degree murder charges.

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  • Infectious diseaseThe growing economic cost of infectious diseases

    Emerging pandemic disease outbreaks such as Ebola increasingly threaten global public health and world economies, scientists say. We can expect five new such diseases each year, into the future. We should also expect them to spread. The tropical disease dengue fever, for example, has made its way to Florida and Texas, seemingly to stay. Five new such diseases expected each year; strategies to reduce climate change adaptable to infectious diseases. Economists, disease ecologists, and others collaborated on an in-depth economic analysis of strategies to address pandemic threats in a proactive way — rather than a reactive response to a crisis.

  • CyberwarNew cyber test range trains soldiers for simultaneous cyber and combat operations

    A unique mix of training technologies sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is preparing front-line soldiers to conduct cyber and combat operations simultaneously, as Marines demonstrated during a recent amphibious exercise off the coast of Virginia. During last month’s Bold Alligator exercise, Marines used ONR’s Tactical Cyber Range to emulate adversary communications hidden in a noisy, dense electromagnetic spectrum —as much a battleground in today’s digital world as any piece of land.

  • First responseHelping first-response robots operate for longer periods

    Through a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Sandia Lab is developing technology which will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios. One of Sandia’s new robots which showcases this technology will be demonstrated at an exposition to be held in conjunction with the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals next June.

  • Chemical agentsTurning deadly chemical warfare agents into harmless soil

    Destroying chemical warfare agents in bulk is a challenge for the military and international community. Current methods of eradication, such as incineration or hydrolysis, create toxic waste which requires further processing. The logistics required to transport large stockpiles from storage to a disposal site can be risky and expensive. DARPA is seeking portable system that turns stockpiles of chemical warfare agents into dirt or other safe organic compounds without generating hazardous waste.

  • STEM educationColleges, labs develop STEM core curriculum

    The success of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Engineering Technology Program to educate veterans for technical careers has inspired a statewide push to create an educational core curriculum to prepare junior college students for technical jobs at California’s national labs. The core curriculum being designed by a consortium of community colleges, national labs, and nonprofit educational institutes emphasizes a heavy focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses to prepare women, minorities, veterans, and other underserved populations for high-paying jobs as technologists.

  • CyberattacksSony hackers threaten attacks against movie goers who plan to see “The Interview”

    The hackers who attacked Sony networks are now threatening an attack on people who plan to go to see the movie “The Interview.” The hackers write in their message that they “recommend you to keep yourself distant” from movie theaters showing the movie. The hackers earlier promised to deliver a “Christmas gift.” It was not clear what they had in mind – some suggested they would release another batch of embarrassing data from Sony’s files — but it now looks as if the “gift” might well be a cyberattack on movie theaters.

  • Cyberattacks2008 Turkish oil pipeline explosion may have been Stuxnet precursor

    The August 2008 Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline explosion in Refahiye, eastern Turkey, was ruled at the time to be an accident resulting from a mechanical failure, which itself was a result of an oversight by Turkish government’s supervisors. Western intelligence services concluded that the explosion was the result of a cyberattack. According to people familiar with an investigation of the incident, hackers had infiltrate the pipeline’s surveillance systems and valve stations, and super-pressurized the crude oil in the pipeline, causing the explosion.

  • TorturePublic support for torture declines as people learn the explicit details of torture techniques

    Does the American public condone torture when the goal is to prevent terrorist attacks? News headlines reporting the results of a Pew Research Center poll released on 9 December indicate more than half of Americans do. That finding, however, is not necessarily valid, says Tufts University’s Richard Eichenberg, who argues that the poll is flawed because it is based on a faulty premise. A more accurate picture of the nation’s attitude can be found in responses to polls conducted by Pew, Gallup, and other news organizations and analyzed in a 2010 report. These surveys explained in graphic detail what interrogation techniques were being judged. So while response to more general questions on the use of torture may continue to produce mixed reactions, Eichenberg says public support for torture will decline as more people become aware of the explicit details of torture techniques contained in the Senate report.

  • Urban security grantsCalifornia Hasidic group must refund misused DHS security grant money

    The California branch of the Hasidic Jewish group Chabad-Lubavitchhas been ordered to pay $844,985 for misappropriating federal funds.In 2008, Chabad applied for a DHS grant as part of the Urban Areas Security Initiative: Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides funding for security upgrades to nonprofits that are at high risk of terrorist attacks.Chabad spent $272,495 of grant money on payroll, utility, and other expenses, but now has to pay penalties and damages triple the grant amount under a mandatory provision of the False Claims Act.

  • Flood protectionBetter defense barriers and technologies for better protection against floods

    Hurricanes are devastating. Aside from the high, sustained wind speeds, they usually bring with them heavy rain, which can quickly lead to the breaching of flood defenses in susceptible areas. Now, U.S. and U.K. researchers have reviewed hurricane flood defense barriers and technologies with a view to helping engineers find improved designs.