Public Safety

  • Bomb squads compete at Sandia Labs’ Robot Rodeo

    Robots are life-saving tools for the nation’s hazardous device teams, providing a buffer between danger and first responders. Beginning this past Monday, Sandia Lab hosted its ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise at Sandia National Laboratories. The five-day event – 11-15 May — offers a challenging platform for civilian and military bomb squad teams to practice defusing dangerous situations with robots’ help. 

  • Invisible inks to help foil counterfeiters

    Counterfeiting is very big business worldwide, with $650 billion per year lost globally, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Scientists have invented sophisticated fluorescent inks that one day could be used as multicolored barcodes for consumers to authenticate products that are often counterfeited. Snap a photo with your smartphone, and it will tell you if the item is real and worth your money.

  • House overwhelmingly votes for overhauling NSA phone metadata bulk collection program

    The House yesterday voted overwhelmingly to ban the bulk collection of American phone metadata, as lawmakers increase the pressure to reform one of the more controversial data collection programs of the National Security Agency (NSA). The program was revealed as a result of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The House voted 338-88 in favor of the USA Freedom Act — the second time the House has voted for a more restrictive data collection scheme. Supporters of surveillance reform are more confident that there will be a majority in the Senate to support a similar measure. The House bill has already gained the support of the White House and the intelligence community. The Senate does not have much time, as the Patriot Act – which includes Section 215 which governs the NSA surveillance program – expires at the end of the month. Leading civil liberties organizations, however, have criticized the bill as not going far enough.

  • Iran deal supporters: Comparisons with 1994 North Korea deal not applicable

    Critics of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers charge that the negotiations, and the impending deal, repeat the mistakes the United States made in the nuclear deal it signed with North Korea in 1994. Supporters of the administration say there is no comparison between what happened twenty years ago and now. One example: the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea was a 4-page general document which did not include and reference to enforcement mechanisms should North Korea decide not to comply with the agreement. The emerging agreement with Iran, on the other hand, is a 150-page document dominated by intricate technical specifications and detailed procedures for inspection and verification, followed by specific benchmarks and definitions of violations and non-compliance and the resulting penalties which would be imposed on Iran should such violations occur.

  • Risks associated with nuclear modernization programs

    In the latest issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, experts from the United States, Russia, and China present global perspectives on ambitious nuclear modernization programs that the world’s nuclear-armed countries have begun.

  • New blood test quickly determines severity of radiation injur

    A novel blood test could greatly improve triage of victims of radiation accidents by rapidly predicting who will survive, who will die, and who should receive immediate medical countermeasures. In pre-clinical trials, the test was able to reveal within twenty-four hours whether survivable doses of radiation or doses that caused severe injury to the bone marrow and other organs would eventually prove fatal. Use of such a test, the researchers said, could “facilitate timely medical intervention and improve overall survival of exposed individuals.”

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  • The FBI violated its own rules in surveillance of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists

    More than eighty pages of internal FBI documents dated from November 2012 to June 2014, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the FBI breached its own investigation rules when it spied on protesters opposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Agents in the FBI’s Houston field office failed to get approval before they cultivated informants and opened files on pipeline protesters — a violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming excessively involved in sensitive political issues.

  • LA to require seismic standards for new cellphone towers

    Last Friday Los Angeles became the first U.S. city to approve seismic standards for new cellphone towers, part of an effort to reduce communications vulnerabilities in case a large earthquake should strike. The Los Angeles plan requires new freestanding cellphone towers to be built to the same seismic standards as public safety facilities. Cellphone towers are currently built only strong enough not to collapse during a major earthquake. There are not required to be strong enough to continue working.

  • U.S. funding has supported Mexican government bodies accused of murders, crimes, abuses

    Over the past year, Mexican authorities have been implicated in cases involving the deaths of hundreds of civilians whose bodies were later found in mass graves. Most of these authorities work for local law enforcement and federal security agencies, which might have received funding from U.S. government programs created to combat Mexico’s illegal drug trade. In 2013, 98.3 percent of crimes in Mexico went unpunished, according to Mexican government statistics. Of the hundreds of mass graves discovered in Mexico in recent years, federal prosecutors have reported opening just fifteen investigations between 2011 and April 2015.

  • Tests with Sandia’s Davis gun aid B61-12 life extension effort

    Three years of design, planning and preparation came down to a split second, a loud boom and an enormous splash in a successful impact test of hardware in the nose assembly of an unarmed, mock B61-12 nuclear bomb. The Sandia National Laboratories test also captured data that will allow analysts to validate computer models of the bomb, part of Sandia’s decade-long effort in the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP). An LEP is a way to extend the life of an aging weapon without adding new military capability. The B61-12 LEP is an $8.1 billion National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) program coordinated across the nation’s nuclear security enterprise.

  • DHS deportations undermine efforts to get immigrants to provide leads on radical suspects

    DHS counterterrorism teams rely on cooperation from immigrant communities to obtain leads on radical individuals and pending terrorism plots, but many of these communities are becoming more wary of federal law enforcement as the number of deportations increase. “It’s ironic that you’ve got them coming in and trying to get information from our communities even as they’re detaining and deporting us at an alarming rate,” says one immigration activist. “That trust is just not going to be there. You can’t have it both ways.”

  • Does Iran deal advance or undermine global nonproliferation efforts? Experts disagree

    The White House already points to the potential Iran deal as one of the highlights of Obama’s legacy, as it fulfills both the Obama doctrine of advancing U.S. interests through engagement with America’s adversaries and the vision of a world gradually retreating from furthering nuclear weapons ambitions. Nuclear nonproliferation experts, however, question whether an Iranian nuclear deal, as laid out in the framework agreement reached last month, advances or sets back the nonproliferation agenda and Obama’s vision of ridding the world of nuclear threat.

  • Final prototype of tool for spotting buried victims now commercially available

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, last week announced the transition of the final prototype of the Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) technology to the commercial market. The technology proved successful during its first real-world operational use when it was deployed to Nepal following the 25 April earthquake to support international search and rescue efforts in the country.

  • U.S. Navy successfully demonstrates autonomous, swarming UAVs

    A new era in autonomy and unmanned systems for naval operations is on the horizon, as U.S. Navy officials last month announced recent technology demonstrations of swarming unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — part of the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program. LOCUST can launch swarming UAVs to autonomously overwhelm an adversary.

  • Nuclear 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.