Public Safety

  • First respondersPrize competition for tracking first responders indoors

    The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) yesterday announced the Department’s first crowdsourced prize competition in support of the first responder community. The Indoor Tracking of the Next Generation First Responder prize competition seeks innovative ideas for solving the challenges of real-time, accurate indoor tracking of first responders during an incident. S&T says it is looking for innovate solutions that will help first responders with basic questions such as “where am I?” and “where is my team?”

  • Nuclear forensicsNuclear forensics to the aid of nuclear detectives

    Fans of the popular TV series “CSI” know that the forensics experts who investigate crime scenes are looking for answers to three key questions: “Who did it; how did they do it; and can we stop them from doing it again?” The field of nuclear forensics has similar goals and uses similar techniques — but with even higher stakes. “In nuclear forensics, we want to know first, is someone able to put together the parts to make a nuclear weapon and set it off?” says one researcher. “And second, if one is set off, can we find out who did it, how they did it and are they going to do it again? Like traditional forensics, we’re looking for nuclear signatures, just like fingerprints; we’re looking for the technological and material clues and evidence to tell us what somebody had done to make this unfortunate thing happen.”

  • IranObama: Deal depends on Iran agreeing to a verifiable 10-year freeze on nuclear activity

    President Barack Obama said yesterday (Monday) that Iran must commit to a verifiable freeze of its nuclear activities for at least ten years in order to make a nuclear deal possible. He said that there are still considerable gaps between the position of Iran and that of the P5+1 group, and that the odds were still against reaching an agreement. He said there was a “substantial disagreement” between his administration and the government of Israel over how to achieve their shared goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The goal of the United States is to make sure “there’s at least a year between us seeing them try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one,” Obama said.

  • Patriot ActClapper: Congress would be blamed if Section 215 is not renewed -- and “untoward incident” occurred

    James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that if Congress failed to reauthorize a controversial provision of the Patriot Act by June, then lawmakers who opposed the renewal of the provision – Section215 – would bear the blame if a terrorist attack, which could have been prevented by actions Section 215 permits, happened. Clapper said that if Congress decided not to renew the Patriot Act, or decided to renew it without Section 215, and an “untoward incident” occurred as a result, he hopes “everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility” and does not just blame the intelligence community.

  • SurveillanceFISA court reauthorizes NSA’s bulk metadata collection until 1 June

    More than a year after President Barack Obama announced that he will work with Congress to curb the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet surveillance program which collects large amounts of U.S. phone metadata, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved last week a government request to continue allowing the agency to operate its bulk data collection until 1 June, when the legal authority for the program is set to expire. The required reauthorization of the program every ninety days has already been granted four other times — March, June, September, December — since Obama made his announcement in January 2014.

  • Rail securityApplying life-saving lessons from past train derailments

    Firefighters and first responders who were called two weeks ago to an oil train derailment near Mount Carbon, West Virginia applied life-saving lessons learned from a rail disaster which occurred thirty-seven years ago. When the CSX train derailed near Mount Carbon last month, local firefighters could have sprayed water and foam on the fire from the explosion, but instead they evacuated residents, maintained a safe distance, and let the fire run its course — which took four days. Choosing not to put the fire out with water likely prevented contamination of the Kanawha River, a local source of drinking water.

  • In the trenchesQuantum radar can detect stealth aircraft

    A prototype quantum radar that has the potential to detect objects which are invisible to conventional systems has been developed by an international research team. The new breed of radar is a hybrid system that uses quantum correlation between microwave and optical beams to detect objects of low reflectivity such as cancer cells or aircraft with a stealth capability. Because the quantum radar operates at much lower energies than conventional systems, it has the long-term potential for a range of applications in biomedicine including non-invasive NMR scans.

  • Cyber operationsNew document details U.S.-Iran cyber tit-for-tat

    Just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart discuss plans to ensure Iran does not weaponized its nuclear program, a newly disclosed National Security Agency (NSA) document details the intensifications of cyber skirmishes between the two countries. While the document does not describe the specific targets in Iran, it acknowledges, for the first time, that the NSA’s attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, a George W. Bush administration project, initiated the cycle of retaliation and escalation of the U.S.-Iran cyber conflict.

  • Domestic terrorismDHS intelligence assessment highlights threat posed by sovereign citizen groups

    U.S. security officials have long considered sovereign citizen groups as a growing threat to domestic security. In a 2014 surveyof state and local law enforcement agencies, leaders of these agencies listed members of sovereign citizen groups as the top domestic terror threat, ahead of foreign Islamist or domestic militia groups. The U.S. government has primarily focused its counterterrorism efforts on the threats posed by foreign extremist groups, including Islamic State and al-Qaeda, but the problem posed by domestic would-be terrorists has not been overlooked. A new DHS intelligence assessment, released earlier this month, focuses on the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen extremists.

  • ResilienceMore resilient mass transit to improve Chicago emergency evacuation system

    A group of Argonne Lab researchers will be studying methods and creating tools for building more resilient mass transit systems to evacuate major cities under a $2.9 million grant announced today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration. The project will bring together researchers from the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory with Chicago’s Pace Suburban Bus and Metra Commuter Rail Service to investigate ways to improve the detection, analysis, and response to emergencies, and how best to evacuate the city in a major emergency.

  • Emergency alertsSocial media help alert students during campus emergencies: Study

    Using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread information during campus emergencies can help keep students safer, according to new research. The study found the widespread popularity of social media and associated mobile apps enables campus authorities to instantly reach a large percentage of students to provide timely and accurate information during crisis situations.

  • FirefightingRedesigning wild-land fire fighter uniforms

    The most common cause of injuries to wild-land firefighters is not burns. When leaders at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) noticed their wild-land firefighters were experiencing more heat stress injuries — like heat exhaustion and heat stroke — than burn injuries, they wanted to know why and how to prevent them. They soon realized their uniforms were part of the problem. Working with a team at the University of California, Davis, they developed technical and design specifications for a new uniform aimed at increasing the comfort and breathability while maintaining the current level of protection against flames. In 2011, CAL FIRE approached the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG) requesting assistance in developing prototype garments.

  • SurveillanceKouachi intelligence failure: The struggle to balance security, privacy, budgetary concerns

    About seven months before the attacks on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, French domestic intelligence agency monitored Saïd Kouachi for at least two years, and his younger brother Chérif Kouachi for at least a year. The surveillance of both brothers had led nowhere, and was later considered a non-priority for intelligence officials. The Kouachi brothers did not appear to be an imminent threat, and it would have taken twenty-five agents to monitor the two brothers around the clock. Experts say that the failures and missteps by French law enforcement in the Kouachi case should be a lesson to other Western governments which may have relaxed surveillance practices targeted at would-be terrorists in order to comply with budget cuts or out of genuine concern for civil liberties.

  • CrimeHair dye “CSI” could help police solve crimes

    Criminals with a penchant for dyeing their hair could soon pay for their vanity, as scientists have found a way to analyze hair samples at crime scenes to rapidly determine whether it was colored and what brand of dye was used. Researchers showed that surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) could be used rapidly to confirm whether hair samples, even microscopic ones, were dyed and what brand of colorant was used.

  • Lone wolvesWhite House summit on extremism focuses on lone wolves

    Today the White House will host community leaders and local law enforcement officials for the second day of a summit on “countering violent extremism,” the purpose of which is to highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent extremists from radicalizing and recruiting individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence. The administration’s counter extremism efforts reflect an understanding that lone wolf terror acts will continue to be a threat for law enforcement as much as acts by organized groups such as al-Qaeda.