Public Safety

  • TerrorismRAND study assesses threat posed by Americans joining jihadist fronts abroad

    Although it is difficult to pin down the exact numbers of Western fighters slipping off to join the jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq – the number is estimated to be around 100 — U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that those fighters pose a clear and present danger to American security. Some of these fighters will be killed in the fighting, some will choose to remain in the Middle East, but some will return, more radicalized than before and determined to continue their violent campaigns back in the United States.

  • SurveillanceGOP senators block NSA surveillance reform bill

    The USA Freedom Act, a bill introduced last year aiming to curtail some of the NSA’s data collection programs, especially those focusing on U.S. phone data, failed last night to reach the 60-vote threshold required to cut off debate and move to a vote. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Republican leader, and other leading GOP senators worked hard to defeat the bill. Nearly a year-and-a-half after the Edward Snowden’s revelations, the act was considered the most politically viable effort in four decades to place curbs on NSA activities. Civil libertarians and technology companies supported the bill, as did the White House and the intelligence community – although the latter two did so more out of fear that a failure of the bill would jeopardize the extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which expires next June.

  • ISISISIS has sufficient quantities of arms to carry on fighting for two years: UN

    A new report prepared for the United Nations Security Council warns that Islamic State (ISIS) has in its possession sufficient reserves of small arms, ammunition, and vehicles to wage its war for Syria and Iraq for up to two years. The size and diversity the Islamist organization’s arsenal allow the group durable mobility, range, and a limited defense against low-flying aircraft. The report notes that even if the U.S.-led air campaign continues to destroy the group’s vehicles and heavier weapon systems, such a campaign “cannot mitigate the effect of the significant volume of light weapons” Isis possesses.

  • In the trenchesTransforming planes into flying aircraft carriers

    Military air operations typically rely on large, manned, robust aircraft, but such missions put these expensive assets — and their pilots — at risk. While small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can reduce or eliminate such risks, they lack the speed, range, and endurance of larger aircraft. These complementary traits suggest potential benefits in a blended approach — one in which larger aircraft would carry, launch, and recover multiple small UAS. A flying carrier would allow the United States to use of drones in areas where the United States has no access to nearby airfields, but recovering a drone in mid-air remains a daunting technical challenge.

  • GunRight-to-carry gun laws may be inked to increase in violent crime: Stanford study

    Right-to-carry or concealed-carry laws have generated much debate in the past two decades — do they make society safer or more dangerous? Prior research based on data through 1992 indicated that the laws decreased violent crime. In 2004, however, the National Research Council issued a report that found that even extending this data through 2000 revealed no credible statistical evidence these particular laws reduced crime. New Stanford research confirms that right-to-carry gun laws are linked to an increase in violent crime. “Different statistical models can yield different estimated effects, and our ability to ascertain the best model is imperfect,” the study’s lead author notes, describing this as the most surprising aspect of the study.

  • DetectionWi-Fi signals enable through-wall detection

    Engineers prove the concept that local Wi-Fi signals can be used to monitor moving objects and bodies that are otherwise visually obscured. Although fundamentally similar to traditional radar systems, their novel approach is entirely passive — utilizing the wireless signals that already swamp our urban airways. This technology has a wide range of applications from healthcare monitoring, security and emergency disaster relief, to finding earthquake survivors in fallen buildings.

  • School shootingShooting-detection system will help police locate a shooter within a school building

    For the past two years, law enforcement officials in Methuen, Massachusetts have been testing an active shooter detection system installed in a local school as part of the city’s threat detection program, which includes prevention and emergency training protocols for school staff and students. The $70,000 system includes dozens of small square panels equipped with infrared cameras and microphones. The system detects gunfire and identifies the exact location where the shooting occurred within the school building – then sends data about the incident to a command center.

  • EarthquakesNew app turns smartphones into sensors for an earthquake early-warning system

    The MyShake app, still in test mode, uses smartphone accelerometers and locators to augment the data on incoming quakes issued by the 400 seismometers which are part of California’s ShakeAlert program.Registered phones act as additional earthquake sensors, as the app runs an algorithm which detects when the phone is still or shaking. Should several registered phones in the same area begin to shake at the same time, an earthquake alert is issued.

  • EarthquakesCourt overturns manslaughter conviction of seismologists over 2009 L'Aquila quake

    An appeals court in Italy on Monday overturned manslaughter convictions of six of the seven natural disaster experts and seismologists who faced prison sentences for what a lower court described as having falsely reassured residents ahead of a 2009 earthquake which killed 309 people in the central Italy city of L’Aquila. The 2012 ruling was met with outrage and dismay by the scientific community, which argued that the convictions were based on a complete misunderstanding of the science used to calculate the probability of an earthquake. Leasing scientists warned that the case could prevent scientists from offering potentially life-saving advice on natural disasters in the future.

  • Killer robotsAutonomous weapons which select, destroy targets without human intervention proliferate

    More scientists are expressing concern over autonomous weapons which are able to select and destroy targets without human control or oversight. Armed drones can be operated by remote pilots, but weapons of the future will rely more on artificial intelligence to decide what to target and whom to kill.

  • Law enforcement technologyFBI: Lawmakers should mandate surveillance “backdoors” in apps, operating systems

    FBI director James Comey said that the agency was pushing lawmakers to mandate surveillance functions in apps, operating systems, and networks, arguing that privacy and encryption prevent or disrupt some of the agency’s investigations. According to Comey, new privacy features implemented by Google and Apple in the wake of the Snowden revelations, automatically encrypt user communication and data, making it difficult for law enforcement to gather evidence and connect links among suspected criminals and terrorists.

  • CybersecurityNew report urges policy overhaul, transparency in offensive cyber operations

    A newly released report, titled Joint Publication 3-12(R) and authored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has revealed that some top commanders are calling for a policy overhaul and more public transparency in offensive cyber operations, given the growing need for such operations. Some previous documents have been published on the topic, but there is no official U.S. military policy book for cyber operations.

  • CommunicationBoeing completes testing of new anti-jamming technology

    Boeing says it has proven its new anti-jamming communications technology is capable of operating as either a ground-based user terminal or satellite-based networking hub, enabling the military to send and receive secure communications at a significantly lower cost by using existing terminals and satellites.

  • Search & rescueCockroach cyborgs use microphones to detect, trace sounds in collapsed buildings

    Researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster. The researchers have also developed technology that can be used as an “invisible fence” to keep the biobots in the disaster area. “In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors,” says one of the researchers.

  • School shootingSchools review lockdown protocols for active shooter scenarios

    Schools across the country are reviewing their lockdown protocols for active shooter scenarios. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Ortiz Middle School is encouraging educators to not only gather students within their care to safety, but if necessary to fight off an attacker if the situation permits. On 9 October, school principal Steve Baca ordered a lockdown after a security guard discovered a gun in a student’s backpack. Immediately, English teacher Alexandra Robertson locked students in her classroom, got them to help barricade the door, and she was prepared to use any object including books and chairs to fed off anyone who might try to enter the classroom.