Public Safety

  • Interconnected technologies to make firefighters safer

    When responding to the more than 1.2 million blazes reported annually, the nation’s firefighters usually start with a dangerous disadvantage: They often lack critical information — even something as basic as a floor plan — that could be vitally important in mounting the most effective and safest attack. That information gap could be erased with today’s communication, computing, sensor and networking technologies.

  • Multinational control of enrichment “the only realistic way” to reduce nuclear risks

    Within the next two weeks, or soon after, the United States and five world powers hope to finalize a nuclear deal with Iran to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for a relaxing of international economic and financial sanctions. What, however, happens in ten years when some of the key restrictions being discussed begin to phase out? One of the biggest concerns is Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which uses high-speed centrifuges to produce uranium enriched to a level appropriate for nuclear power reactor fuel. Enrichment plants like this can be quickly reconfigured to produce “weapon-grade” uranium. A new report suggests that “Reducing proliferation risks by ending national control over dangerous civilian nuclear activities is an important idea with a long history,” in the words of one of the report’s authors. “As civilian nuclear technology keeps spreading, multinational control may offer the only realistic way to stop the spread of nuclear weapons capability.”

  • Global conflicts on the rise

    Forty armed conflicts were active in 2014, the highest number of conflicts since 1999 — and an increase of 18 percent when compared to the thirty-four conflicts active in 2013. New data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) shows an increase in both the number of active conflicts but also in the number of battle-related deaths in these conflicts.

  • Firefighting humanoid robot shows its skills

    In fall 2014 in Mobile Bay, Alabama, Virginia Tech engineering students made history during a five-minute demo that placed an adult-sized humanoid robot with a hose in front of a live fire aboard a U.S. Navy ship. The robot located the fire and sprayed water from the hose. Water blasted the flames. The demo, four years in the making, is part of a new effort by the U.S. Navy to better assist sailors in fighting fires, controlling damage, and carrying out inspections aboard ships via user-controlled unmanned craft or humanoid robots.

     

  • New fog chamber offers testing options which could improve security cameras

    Fog can play a key role in cloaking military invasions and retreats and the actions of intruders. This is why physical security experts seek to overcome fog, but it is difficult to field test security cameras, sensors, or other equipment in fog that is often either too thick or too ephemeral. Until now, collecting field test data in foggy environments was time-consuming and costly. Sandia Lab researchers thought it would be more efficient to develop a controlled-fog environment for sensor testing – and they have developed a fog chamber — one of the world’s largest — that meets the needs of the military, other government agencies, and industry: The chamber is in a tunnel owned by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

  • New foam technology to lead to better protective equipment

    Foam. We wear it. We sit on it. We sleep on it. We even use it to protect ourselves. Whether it is a football helmet, hospital bed, knee pad, or body armor, the foam it contains plays a critical role in making that product both comfortable and safe. Can that foam, however, be transformed into something significantly better, safer and more comfortable? An FSU researcher has developed a brand new, high-performing auxetic foam with a unique ability to get thicker, rather than thinner, when stretched. In practical terms, this counter-intuitive behavior, totally opposite to that of conventional foam, leads to many enhanced materials properties including a better and more comfortable fit that adjusts on the fly.

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  • Drone center provided drones to survey flood damage, assist search and rescue efforts

    The town of Wimberley, about thirty miles southwest of Austin, was struck on 25 May by heavy flooding along the Blanco River. More than 400 homes were destroyed. Four deaths were reported in Hays County and at least eight persons were reported missing. Nineteen storm-related deaths were reported in Texas and Oklahoma and fourteen in Mexico. A test-site research team from the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence & Innovation (LSUASC) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) was dispatched to Wimberley, Texas, on 26 May to conduct low-altitude research flights in the wake of devastating flooding.

  • U.S. surveillance policies cost U.S. tech sector more than $35 billion in sales

    New report says the U.S. tech industry has under-performed as a result of concerns about the U.S. government’s electronic surveillance. The report estimates that the total economic impact on the U.S. tech sector of U.S. surveillance practices exceeds $35 billion annually. The report recommends policymakers level the playing field for the U.S. tech sector by implementing a series of reforms such as increasing the transparency of its surveillance practices, opposing government efforts to weaken encryption or introduce backdoors in software, and strengthening its mutual legal assistance treaties with other nations.

  • Snowden fallout: Revelations forced U.K. to pull out agents from “hostile countries”

    The British security services had to pull out agents from “hostile countries” as a result of information the Chinese and Russian intelligence services obtained when they gained access to the millions of top-secret NSA files Edward Snowed was carrying with him when he fled to Honk Kong and then to Russia. Snowden assured journalists who interviewed him that the Chinese and Russian intelligence services would not be able to access these files because he encrypted them with the highest encryption methods available. Security experts commented that he was either naïve or disingenuous – because he must have known, or should have known, that the cyber capabilities these two countries would make it relatively easy for them to crack the encrypted files he was carrying with him. We now know that these security experts were right.

  • Administration rejects criticism of NSA’s surveillance of foreign hackers

    Just two years after the Edward Snowden leaks exposed the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, another report released last Friday from the Snowden files shares information about the NSA’s efforts to track foreign hackers. As with the NSA’s controversial foreign surveillance program which kept metadata records of suspected foreign terrorists’ conversations with Americans, the NSA’s hacker program may incidentally gather Americans’ private information from the files of foreign hackers.

  • Texas flood exposes serious weaknesses in high-tech warning systems

    The Memorial Day weekend flood in Texas was a test for regional flood warning systems employed by local and federal emergency agencies. Hays County officials issued three “reverse 911” notifications to residents residing in homes along the Blanco River. The National Weather Servicesent out flash flood warnings to registered local cellphones. Yet the disaster flood, which caused tens of millions of dollars in property damage in Blanco and Hays counties and killed more than a dozen people, exposed serious weaknesses in high-tech warning systems.

  • Administration asks court for six more months of NSA bulk metadata collection

    Just four hours after President Barack Obama vowed to sign the USA Freedom Actwhich limits the NSA’s domestic bulk data collection program, his administration asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court to ignore a ruling by the second circuit court of appeals declaring the bulk surveillance program unauthorized, and instead grant the NSA power to continue bulk collection for six months. In its request, the administration pointed to a six months transition period provided in the USA Freedom Act as a reason to permit an “orderly transition” of the NSA’s domestic bulk collection program.

  • “Dark Internet” inhibits law enforcement’s ability to identify, track terrorists

    For several months, Islamic State militants have been using instant messaging apps which encrypt or destroy conversations immediately. This has inhibit U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies from identifying and monitoring suspected terrorists, even when a court order is granted, because messaging companies and app developers say they are unable to unlock the coded conversations and/or do not have a record of the conversations. “We’re past going dark in certain instances,” said Michael B. Steinbach, the FBI’s top counterterrorism official. “We are dark.”

  • Iran’s refusal to allow inspection of military sites could derail nuclear agreement

    As the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council— the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China — plus Germany near a deal to ease international sanctions if Iran agrees to restrictions and monitoring of its nuclear activities, diplomats say Iran’s refusal to provide inspectors access to its military bases could set back the negotiations, which have been in the works for over twenty-months. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly said that U.S. officials want IAEA inspectors to be given “anywhere, anytime” access to sites where nuclear work is suspected, adding that the Obama administration will not accept a deal unless access is granted “to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful — period.”

  • Floods as tools of war: Many floods in the Netherlands in past 500 years were deliberately caused during wartime

    A new study shows that, from 1500 until 2000, about a third of floods in southwestern Netherlands were deliberately caused by humans during wartimes. Some of these inundations resulted in significant changes to the landscape, being as damaging as floods caused by heavy rainfall or storm surges. The study shows that floods in the Netherlands were used as a weapon as recently as the 1940s. “Strategic flooding during the Second World War undertaken by the Germans remained purely defensive, while the Allied flooding of the former island of Walcheren in the southwest of the country sped up the Allied offensive,” says the study’s author.