Public Safety

  • Denying foreign aid to countries with outstanding NYC parking tickets

    New York City is home to 289 foreign missions and consulates, and their foreign diplomats have incurred more than $17.2 million in parking fines; these fines were issued due to safety violations, including the blocking of fire hydrants, which put the safety of NYC residents at risk; there is already a law on the books stating that 110 percent of the total unpaid parking fines owed to NYC and the District of Columbia are to be withheld from foreign aid and obligations to the countries at fault, but so far this law has not been enforced; three New York House representatives want to change that, telling other countries: pay your NYC parking tickets or forget about foreign aid

  • Quadrotor micro UAVs go mainstream

    A Canadian company develops small quadrotor micro UAVs for use by law enforcement, first responders, and the military; the company’s Scout has a range of three kilometers and maximum speed of 50 kilometers per hour; it can fly through wind gusts of up to 80 km/h, and can cope with harsh weather conditions; the Scout is light — it weighs about one kilogram — and can be carried disassembled in a case and be assembled quickly by snapping its rotors into the main body

  • Emergency alert system now reaches cell phones

    The Federal Communications Commission is working with cell phone providers to expand its emergency alert system to include mobile phones; under the new program, dubbed the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN), individuals will receive cell phone alerts from the government about emergencies occurring where they live; subscribers will receive alerts even when cell towers are jammed with traffic; the program will first be rolled out in New York City by the end of the year and officials expect to have nationwide coverage in 2012

  • Tiltable-head robots adept at navigating disaster debris

    Search and rescue missions have made the headlines in the last eighteen months, following the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the floods in Pakistan and New Zealand, and the tsunami in Japan; machines able to navigate through complex dirt and rubble environments could have helped rescuers after these natural disasters, but building such machines is challenging; Georgia Tech researchers have now built a robot that can penetrate and “swim” through granular material

  • ATF cracks down on bombs used to scare seals

    Much to the frustration of California fishermen, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is starting to regulate the firecrackers used to scare away seals from fishing lines; beginning 1 May, ATF officials will begin enforcing a federal law that mandates anyone who purchases the seal “bombs” to obtain a special permit and clear a background check in order to prevent terrorists or criminals from using them; the bombs resemble M-80 firecrackers and are shot from a gun; fishermen and farmers use them to scare away animals like hungry birds or seals

  • Arizona police deploy iris scanners and facial biometrics to identify inmates

    Local police departments in Arizona have begun using facial biometrics and iris scanning technology to identify inmates and registered sex offenders; officers with the Pinal County Sheriff’s department have entered roughly 1,500 inmates and 700 sex offenders into a national database to better identify, register, and track inmates; the scans come as part of a broader effort led by the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) and the U.S. Justice Department; beginning in 2009, the Justice Department awarded $500,000 to help roughly forty-five law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to purchase iris scanners from BI2 Technologies

  • Surveillance cams removed from Muslim neighborhood in U.K.

    Local law enforcement officials in the United Kingdom have begun to uninstall more than 200 surveillance cameras from a predominately Muslim neighborhood in Birmingham; the installation of the cameras was met with fierce criticism, especially after residents had learned that some cameras were hidden; residents were particularly incensed because they were not consulted during the planning process; in October Chief Constable Chris Sims agreed to remove the cameras in order to regain the trust of the community

  • Growth of adolescent fingerprints can be predicted

    One difficulty law enforcement faces is recognizing whether the fingerprints taken during adolescence and in adulthood were those of the same individual; German researchers have developed a new procedure enabling the growth of fingerprints to be predicted

  • 7/7 attacks could not have been prevented: report

    An inquest into the 7 July 2005 attack on London transportation concluded that any suggestion MI5 could have stopped the attacks was “based to a considerable extent on hindsight”; there were failures in the response by emergency workers — confusion, a shortage of first aid supplies, and radios that did not work underground, but the report concludes that government errors had not increased the death toll

  • Search-and-rescue robot operators get better with practice

    Urban search and rescue (USAR) task forces are essential for locating, stabilizing, and extricating people who become trapped in confined spaces following a catastrophic event; sometimes the search area is too unstable for a live rescue team, so rescuers have turned to robots carrying video cameras; trouble is, research shows that more often than not, the human beings who remotely operate the robots have a view of their robot-control skills which is at variance with reality, causing robots to get stuck

  • DHS struggles to detect billions in cash smuggled across U.S.-Mexico border

    Each year Mexican drug cartels smuggle billions of dollars of cash into and out of the United States, yet despite their best efforts, DHS officials are struggling to stem the flow of cash that is fueling the drug wars; the Department of Justice estimates that each year Mexican drug cartels smuggle as much as $39 billion in cash across the southern border; DHS officials say that it is having a difficult time detecting cash; officials are actively seeking to develop technological solutions to help detect individuals smuggling large amounts of cash across the border; but the technology to accomplish this goals may not exist yet as there are several large technical and logistical hurdles that must be overcome

  • Philadelphia police hold emergency exercise

    On Wednesday morning the Philadelphia police department held a training exercise to help prepare officers to respond during a terrorist attack; starting at 10:30 AM roughly 50 officers gathered on 22nd Street and JFK Boulevard where they were given assignments, briefed, and eventually deployed to cover different sections of Center City; The drill involved members of the department’s Homeland Security Unit and was a rapid deployment exercise that reflected Philadelphia’s heightened level of awareness following the death of Osama bin Laden

  • Smartphones offer investigators gigabytes of personal data

    Unbeknownst to most smartphone users is the fact that investigators and criminals can access nearly every detail of a person’s private life just by gaining access to their phone; a forensic investigator can use a few simple tools to uncover a mountain of personal information including texts, photos, tweets, Facebook messages, emails, and important appointments; given the wealth of information that authorities are able to collect without a user’s knowledge, privacy advocates are not pleased; advocates are pushing for laws that regulate what type of information law enforcement officials can collect and what is off limits

  • Network-based tracking, an alternative to GPS

    With improvements in network-based tracking police and first responders now have a reliable alternative to GPS tracking when searching for suspects or responding to 9-1-1 emergencies; using signals from cell phone towers to triangulate a phone’s location, network-based tracking has steadily improved and in some regards surpassed GPS-tracking; unlike GPS-tracking, network-based solutions cannot be jammed by a user and law enforcement officers do not need to carry any additional equipment; with network-based tracking police can find an individual’s position within fifty meters using data from cell phone towers; despite improvements in network-based tracking, the system is not perfect and GPS still has many strengths