Public Safety

  • Nuclear forensicsNuclear forensics science helps thwart terrorist use of nuclear materials

    A nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists is the stuff of nightmares, especially for U.S. agencies charged with preventing a devastating attack. When security or law enforcement agents confiscate nuclear or radiological weapons or their ingredients being smuggled domestically or internationally, they must quickly trace them back to their source. This is where the science of nuclear forensics comes in. With funding from DHS, Oregon State University has launched a new graduate emphasis in nuclear forensics in OSU’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics.

  • FirefightingImproved structure firefighting glove commercially available

    When responding to structural fires, firefighters wear protective gloves known as “structure gloves” to shield their hands from burns and other injuries. Because structure gloves can be bulky and limit dexterity, firefighters often need to remove the gloves to complete routine tasks, such as handling operating tools or using communications equipment. Without gloves, firefighters’ hands are at a higher risk of injury. DHS S&T partnered with two companies to construct a new, improved structure glove that will provide the full range of protection firefighters need. This next-generation glove provides firefighters with enhanced dexterity, water repellency and fire resistance. The glove is now commercially available.

  • FirefightingResearchers make “bio-inspired” flame retardants in a jiffy

    Furniture fires are the leading cause of casualties in house fires. In 2013, they accounted for about 30 percent of more than 2,700 deaths in residential fires. After devising several new and promising “green” flame retardants for furniture padding, NIST researchers took a trip to the grocery store and cooked up their best fire-resistant coatings yet.

  • SurveillanceNSA accepts proposed Congressional curbs on bulk data collection

    The NSA’s domestic bulk phone metadata collection program, authorized under Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, is set to expire on 1 June. Congress is now gearing up to pass new legislation, called the USA Freedom Act, to curb the NSA’s ability to store domestic phone metadata, instead keeping the information with telecommunications companies. NSA officials have welcomed the proposed restrictions, saying many within the agency doubted the effectiveness of its bulk metadata collection program.

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  • DetectionTraining the future canine force

    Canines have proven to be expert bomb detectors for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. With combat operations winding down, however, the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Expeditionary Canine Sciences program says it is taking a fresh look at how dogs are trained to identify different explosive devices — and their roles in future conflicts. In addition to challenging dogs’ noses, ONR-sponsored research is studying their minds. Canines’ brains are evaluated using functional MRI machines (fMRIs) to determine how well they respond to various forms of motivation — snack treats, verbal praise, or physical affection such as petting.

  • Iran dealKerry tells Israelis: U.S. “guarantees” it can prevent Iran from getting the bomb

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried to assuage concerns in Israel over the nuclear deal with Iran, saying in a Sunday interview on Israel’s Channel 10 TV that “There is a lot of hysteria about this deal.” He added: “I say to every Israeli that today we have the ability to stop them if they decided to move quickly to a bomb, and I absolutely guarantee that in the future we will have the ability to know what they are doing so that we can still stop them if they decided to move to a bomb.”

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  • Law enforcementOhio to develop state-wide standards for police use of deadly force

    Ohio governor John Kasich has created a 12-member group of community and law enforcement leaders to help draft statewide standards on how police departments should use deadly force. The move comes in the wake of a series of police shootings involving black males.Most police departments in Ohio already have their own policies for deadly force, and some claim a statewide standard might not be an effective solution. Kasich said he would use his powers to pressure police departments in the state to follow the standards recommended by the group.

  • Earthquake early warningU Oregon expands role in Pacific Northwest earthquake early warning system

    The University of Oregon will soon be playing an active role in preparing West Coast residents for the next magnitude 9 earthquake. Working in cooperation with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN), the UO will maintain fifteen seismometers previously owned by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The seismic network is a cooperative between the UO and the University of Washington, and is a key player in the development and testing of a West Coast earthquake early warning system. The recent passage of Oregon Senate Bill 5543, which was signed 30 March by Gov. Kate Brown, paved the way for the state of Oregon to acquire the seismometers with a one-time appropriation of $670,000.

  • Disaster responseWhat works and doesn’t in disaster health response

    By Richard Bissell and Thomas Kirsch

    On Saturday, 24 April 2015, a major (Magnitude 7.8) earthquake hit Nepal shortly after midday. At the moment, the most important question is how can the global community best respond? What can and what should international relief teams be prepared to do when responding to such an event? Research provides some well-documented evidence that many international health-oriented responses are poorly targeted and may be influenced by objectives that play well on the home front rather than what’s needed on the ground. As we respond to Nepal’s earthquake, and as we look forward to the next international earthquake responses, let us take into account what we have learned from past experiences, and, in coordination with our local hosts, provide the kinds of health assistance that are most likely to meet the needs of the people affected.

  • Cyber operationsIsrael’s navy protects more than the country’s coast

    Cyber warriors working for Israel’s navy are constantly engaged in protecting against intense cyber intrusions which targets the country’s digital infrastructure, according to a senior navy source. “The navy understands that cyber conflicts are wars in their own right, beyond conventional conflicts that we have grown accustomed to. In cyber war, one can engage without firing a single bullet. Attacks can come before a conventional war. There are no official cease-fires. It goes on all of the time,” the source said.

  • Nuclear whistleblowingMan who revealed Israel’s nuclear secrets detained in Jerusalem for talking to foreigners

    Nearly thirty years ago, in the fall of 1986, MordechaiVanunu, a low-level technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, left Israel for a trip to the Far East. He settled in Australia, converted to Christianity, and sometime in August that year began to talk with Peter Hounam, a London Sunday Times reporter, about what he saw at Dimona. He spent eighteen years in jail, eleven of these years in solitary confinement, and was released, under severe restrictions, in 2004. Last Thursday he was detained in Jerusalem for violating one of his release conditions: he talked with two foreigners, that is, non-Israelis, for more than half-an-hour.

  • DronesDespite persistent questions, support for use of drones against terrorists remains strong

    The CIA counterterrorism program which captured, interrogated, and tortured al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons was criticized by lawmakers, including Senate Democrats who questioned the secrecy of the program. Many of those same lawmakers overwhelmingly support CIA targeted drone missions aimed at killing terror suspects and militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. Some lawmakers say it is time to move the drone program to the Pentagon. “I can understand when it was a very small operation why it would be done by the intelligence agency, such as U-2s and other reconnaissance aircraft, for many years,” says Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). “Now it’s reached the point where it’s an integral part of the conflict and a very essential one, so I think it should be conducted and oversight and administered by the Department of Defense.”

  • SyriaIsrael attacks in Syria, destroying Hezbollah-bound arms

    The Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched two attacks on targets located inside Syria army bases – the first attacks took place on the night between Wednesday and Thursday, and the second wave of attacks took place the night between Friday and Saturday. The targets destroyed in the attacks were Iran-made long-range missiles which the Assad regime stored and maintained for Hezbollah, the Shi’a Lebanese militia. Since January 2013, the IAF conducted ten such attacks – the attacks Wednesday night and Friday night were attacks number nine and ten.

  • Nuclear weaponsU.S. urged to end “hair-trigger” nuclear weapons alert

    Today, just as at the height of the cold war, U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are on hair-trigger status, ready to be fired in minutes in response to a warning of an incoming attack. Several instances of erroneous and misinterpreted warning signals illustrate how this “launch on warning” posture creates a risk of a mistaken launch. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has called on President Barack Obama to use the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference — which begins this Monday, 27 April at the United Nations — to announce an end to the cold war practice of keeping U.S. ground-based nuclear missiles on “hair trigger” alert.

  • Nuclear risksHow to verify a comprehensive Iran nuclear deal

    With the negotiation between the P5+1(the United States, European Union, Britain, France, Russia, and China) and Iran resuming yesterday (Wednesday) about a set of parameters for an eventual Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the shape of a final deal about Iran’s nuclear program has emerged. Many important provisions of a final deal, however, remain to be negotiated in the coming months. David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says that a critical set of these provisions involves the adequacy of verification arrangements which would be in place to monitor Iran’s compliance with a deal. Tehran’s long history of violations, subterfuge, and non-cooperation requires extraordinary arrangements to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed peaceful.