Disasters

  • Seventeen teams to compete in DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials

    Four teams that built full robot hardware and software systems using their own funds qualified to join thirteen other teams to compete in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. The event will take place 20-21 December at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida, where spectators can observe as the robots are tested on the capabilities that would enable them to provide assistance in future natural and man-made disasters.

  • Standardized performance tests for emergency response robots

    Seventeen teams will be directing their emergency-response robots to perform eight basic tasks which were drawn from the Fukushima Daiichi response and then converted into standardized tests by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). A year later, the capabilities of robots that qualify in this year’s trials will be tested in a more realistic disaster scenario. In the winner-take-all finals, robots will perform all eight challenges consecutively. NIST engineers have been at the forefront of using standardized performance testing for emergency response robots used in bomb-response and for urban search-and-rescue operations. Since 2005, fifteen NIST tests have been adopted as standards by ASTM International, and about forty more are under various stages of development or review.

  • Earthquake early warning? There’s an app for that

    Researchers from the University of California have unveiled a smartphone app designed to provide users an early warning of approaching earthquakes. Based on the proximity of the user to the earthquake’s epicenter, the app will provide alerts of between a few seconds and one minute before a tremor hits.

  • Better earthquake early-warning system

    Geophysicists have developed a new way of calculating the magnitude of an imminent earthquake by making better use of measurements of the compression waves produced early in the event. They say that the technique could be used to create a better early-warning system for earthquakes that could be used worldwide.

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  • Early warning system to detect abrupt climate change impacts

    Climate change has increased concern over possible large and rapid changes in the physical climate system, which includes the Earth’s atmosphere, land surfaces, and oceans. Some of these changes could occur within a few decades or even years, leaving little time for society and ecosystems to adapt. A new report from the National Research Council states that even steady, gradual change in the physical climate system can have abrupt impacts elsewhere — in human infrastructure and ecosystems for example — if critical thresholds are crossed. The report calls for the development of an early warning system that could help society better anticipate sudden changes and emerging impacts.

  • Key to protecting Earth from asteroids: time

    Scientists say that humanity can address the threats from asteroids of any size if given enough time and notice of the asteroid’s existence and trajectory. Even an asteroid the size of the 10-kilometer-wide space rock which scientists hold responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago, can be destroyed,  although it would take hitting the asteroid with multiple spacecrafts over a period of several decades.

  • Defending against electromagnetic-pulse attacks

    We are all familiar with the power of electromagnetic attacks from the movies: in “Ocean’s Eleven,” George Clooney’s gang disables Las Vegas’ power grid, and Keanu Reeves’ henchmen hold off the enemy robot fighters from their spaceship in the “Matrix Trilogy.” The heroes in the films succeed by sending out a very strong electromagnetic pulse, which changes the voltage in the vicinity so that regulators, switches, and circuit boards in electronic equipment go crazy. Researchers are now trying to figure out how such attacks can be detected. They have developed a measurement instrument for this purpose that is capable of determining the strength, frequency, and direction of electromagnetic attacks.

  • Weather risk management should be part of companies’ overall risk management

    Volatile weather activity is increasing around the world. While extreme events such as typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or flood Cleopatra in Sardinia may capture the headlines, minor fluctuations in expected weather can have big impacts on business performance across a wide range of industries. A new report focuses on the growing importance of weather risks for businesses, highlighting the economic impact of fluctuating weather conditions and how companies can protect themselves, using new approaches to “weather risk management.” Weather risk management products are already widely used in the United States, where they have become more readily accepted as a standard feature of companies’ overall risk management.

  • Deflecting asteroids to avoid Armageddon

    It sounds like the script for a Hollywood film: a giant meteorite from outer space heading straight for the Earth and threatening the destruction of mankind. Yet such a scenario does represent a real threat to our planet, as researchers reckon that we can expect an asteroid to collide with Earth every few hundred years. In real life, though, nobody wants to rely on a rescue plan hastily improvised at the last minute. Scientists with the European-funded research project NEOShield are working to develop concepts designed to help avert these impacts and to alter asteroids’ orbits as they race toward Earth.

  • Indian Ocean phenomenon helps in predicting extreme weather

    The Indian Ocean Dipole is the difference in sea-surface temperatures between the western and eastern part of the Indian Ocean. A better understanding of the relationship between the Indian Ocean Dipole and extreme weather events will enable farmers, industry, communities, and governments better to anticipate and prepare for droughts and increased bushfire risk, up to six months in advance of the event.

  • Smart software fighting fire with #fire

    Australia’s key disaster management agencies have joined forces to tackle the problem of how to access and interpret information gathered during bushfires and other natural disasters to help emergency services save lives and property.

  • Helping farmers cope with climate change is big business

    Monsanto estimates there is a $20 billion market for employing massive data analysis to provide weather forecasting and crop-growing advice tailored to individual plots of land. With a $300 billion agriculture industry in the United States exposed to climate change, predicting the effects of warming temperature is critical to the industry. Monsanto has recently acquired – for $1 billion — the Climate Corporation, a Silicon Valley company which uses data analysis and algorithms to redefine how farmers grow and harvest crops. The company provides farmers with insights which predict weather pattern and the changing effects on crops.

  • Modeling earthquakes and explosives reactions

    Researchers are developing mathematical models that can help in reducing rock fracturing and soil liquefaction caused by natural or man-made disasters. The outcomes of the research could improve safety levels in the mining and petroleum industries, and play a critical role in the ability of civil infrastructure to withstand disasters such as earthquakes and explosions.

  • Methane emissions in the U.S. exceed government estimates

    Along with carbon dioxide, methane is one of the most important greenhouse gases in terms of its potential to raise global temperatures. It also encourages the formation of surface ozone in cities and affects other aspects of atmospheric chemistry. A new study finds that emissions of methane from fossil fuel extraction and refining activities in the South Central United States are nearly five times higher than previous estimates. The collaborative study indicates that in addition to fossil fuel extraction, animal husbandry is also a major contributor to the higher-than-expected methane emissions.

  • NIST: Joplin tornado highlights need for building design, construction standards

    Nationally accepted standards for building design and construction, public shelters, and emergency communications can significantly reduce deaths and the steep economic costs of property damage caused by tornadoes. That is the key conclusion of a two-year technical NIST investigation into the impacts of the 22 May 2011 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri. Report and recommendations released for public comment.