Public Safety

  • When the camera lies: our surveillance society needs a dose of integrity to be reliable

    Being watched is part of life today. Our governments and industry leaders hide their cameras inside domes of wine-dark opacity so we can’t see which way the camera is looking, or even if there is a camera in the dome at all. They’re shrouded in secrecy. But who is watching them and ensuring the data they collect as evidence against us is reliable? Surveillance evidence is increasingly being used in legal proceedings, but the surveillants – law enforcement, shop-keepers with a camera in their shops, people with smartphones, etc. — have control over their recordings, and if these are the only ones, the one-sided curation of the evidence undermines their integrity. There is thus a need to resolve the lack of integrity in our surveillance society. There are many paths to doing this, all of which lead to other options and issues that need to be considered. But unless we start establishing principles on these matters, we will be perpetuating a lack of integrity regarding surveillance technologies and their uses.

  • Mobile app helps first responders choose the right biodetection technology

    First responders have downloaded more than 10,000 copies of a guide to commercially available, hand-portable biodetection technologies created to help them determine what they might be up against in the field. Since many first responders do not always have immediate access to a computer, a mobile version of the guide is now available for cell phones and tablets. An updated version of the guide has just been released to help response organizations make informed decisions when procuring the right technology for their particular needs and circumstances.

  • Smart grenade seeks, finds enemy hiding behind barriers, walls

    The Small Arms Grenade Munition (SAGM) round — a 40mm counter-defilade, air-bursting grenade designed for both the M203 and M320 launchers — will undergo evaluation in July 2015. The SAGM allows a soldier to target an enemy who is protected behind a barrier and have the munition explode, in the air, above the target. The SAGM does not require the soldier to conduct any kind of pre-fire programming sequence. The soldier aims the weapon and fires, and the round detects where a wall is and then explodes, in the air, after passing the wall. The SAGM round has been under development since January 2012.

  • Reducing uncertainty in designing complex military systems

    Uncertainty is sometimes unavoidable, but in the world of scientific computing and engineering, at least, what is worse than uncertainty is being uncertain about how uncertain one is. Understanding with confidence the level of uncertainty in computational models used for designing complex military systems can be enormously beneficial, reducing costs and development times. DARPA program seeks novel mathematical research for quantifying and predicting uncertainty in design models as alternative to costly and repetitive testing.

  • Gunmen, holding hostages, surrounded by police in small town outside of Paris

    As we put today’s HSNW issue to bed (06:00 EST), the French security forces are surrounding a printing facility in Dammartin-en-Goële , Seine- et-Marne, where the two brothers who shot and killed twelve people in and around the offices of Charlie Hebdo Wednesday are holed up, holding one or more hostages. We will continue to update the story as events unfold.

  • Terrorists develop tactics to evade U.S. drones

    The CIA’s use of Predator drones against Islamic militants in the Middle East began shortly after the 9/11 attacks and has increased dramatically during the Obama administration. As the number of drone strikes in Yemen increased, AQAP militants began to develop tactics to hide themselves from a drone’s sensors.

  • Deadly debris: Northwestern U students report on U.S. landmine legacy

    Despite a 20-year cleanup effort, the explosive remnants of war left behind by the United States after sustained military campaigns around the world continue to kill and maim thousands of people in Cambodia, Iraq, and other countries. Since 1993 the United States has spent $3.2 billion on efforts to clear unexploded ordnance, assist victims, and wipe out aging munitions stockpiles, but civilians are still dying and the “deadly debris” is inflicting incalculable damage on communities, regions, and entire countries.

  • Speedy, agile UAVs for troops in urban missions

    DARPA aims to give small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) advanced perception and autonomy rapidly to search buildings or other cluttered environments without teleoperation. The program aims to develop and demonstrate autonomous UAVs small enough to fit through an open window and able to fly at speeds up to twenty meters per second (45 miles per hour) — while navigating within complex indoor spaces independent of communication with outside operators or sensors and without reliance on GPS waypoints.

  • Nanomaterial proves to be a better flame retardant than chemical alternative

    In a face-off between two promising flame retardants, the challenger — a nanomaterial that maintains a positive façade while sheltering a negative interior — outperformed its chemical antithesis. This material already is a leading candidate for environmentally friendly fire-resistant coatings on furniture foam.

  • Ten years after Asian tsunami, too few early-warning buoys are deployed

    Ten years after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami killed more than 220,000 people across twelve countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Myanmar, some residents of villages close to the shores are uncertain of how they will be notified or how they will react to a future tsunami. Many of the villages affected by the magnitude-9.1 tsunami still lack ocean buoys that help detect tsunamis, sirens to alert residents, and a protocol for residents to follow when sirens are issued.

  • One million curies of radioactive material safely recovered

    Experts at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) helped the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Off-Site Source Recovery Project (OSRP) recover more than one million curies of radioactive sources since 1999. LANL says that the accomplishment represents a major milestone in protecting our nation and the world from material that could be used in “dirty bombs” by terrorists. “Taking disused, unwanted and, in limited cases, abandoned nuclear materials out of harm’s reach supports the Laboratory’s mission of reducing global nuclear danger,” said Terry Wallace, principal associate director for global security at Los Alamos.

  • Police body-worn-cameras can prevent unacceptable use-of-force: Report

    As President Barack Obama pledges investment in body-worn-camera technology for police officers, researchers say cameras induce self-awareness that can prevent unacceptable uses-of-force seen to have tragic consequences in the U.S. over the past year — from New York to Ferguson — but warn that cameras have implications for prosecution and data storage. Researchers have now published the first full scientific study of the landmark crime experiment they conducted on policing with body-worn-cameras. The experiment showed that evidence capture is just one output of body-worn video, and the technology is perhaps most effective at actually preventing escalation during police-public interactions: whether that is abusive behavior towards police or unnecessary use-of-force by police.

  • Many violent criminals driven by a desire to do the right thing: Researchers

    To the extent that their heinous behavior can be understood, murders, wife beaters, gang bangers, and other violent criminals are acting out of a breakdown of morals, right? Not so fast, say two social scientists say. In a new book, they ascribe most acts of violence to a truly surprising impulse: the desire to do the right thing. “When someone does something to hurt themselves or other people, or to kill somebody, they usually do so because they think they have to,” explained one of the researchers. “They think they should do it, that it’s the right thing to do, that they ought to do it and that it’s morally necessary.”

  • Australians ponder whether Sydney siege could have been predicted and prevented

    Authorities and security experts in Australia believe that better monitoring of Man Haron Monis’ activities, not counterterrorism measures, could have prevented the armed siege last week when Monis held seventeen people hostage at a Sydney cafe, killing two of them before police shot him dead. Lone wolf terrorists are unlikely to catch the attention of counterterrorism agencies because they bypass the sophisticated planning deployed by most terrorist groups. Popular counterterrorism strategies, including communications surveillance, could do little to predict the actions of a lone wolf terrorist. “The attack package is a very low-grade effort,” says one expert. “You don’t tell anyone about it, and that makes it very difficult for intelligence agencies to pick these people up.”

  • Washington State seeks better responses to landslides

    The March 2014 Oso landslide in Snohomish County, Washington State, killed forty-three people. A state commission, including experts in emergency management, land planning and development, geology, and hydrology, appointed by Washington state governor Jay Inslee to determine how better to avoid and respond to landslides released seventeen recommendations on last Monday.