• Why we should start worrying about nuclear fallout

    Since North Korea’s recent missile tests, and Sunday’s underground nuclear test, the possibility of nuclear warfare looms larger than it has in more than five decades. Nearly thirty years after the cold war ended, are we prepared to face such a challenge? How would large-scale nuclear attacks affect the world today? “During the cold war, the United States, the Soviet Union, and several European countries built networks of fallout shelters — but even at their peak, these would not have effectively protected the majority of citizens,” says one expert. Nor is radioactive fallout the only problem, because “the damage from mass fires triggered by nuclear bombs has been radically and persistently underestimated.”

  • California’s police can't keep license plate data secret: Court

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU won a decision by the California Supreme Court that the license plate data of millions of law-abiding drivers, collected indiscriminately by police across the state, are not “investigative records” that law enforcement can keep secret. California’s highest court ruled that the collection of license plate data isn’t targeted at any particular crime, so the records couldn’t be considered part of a police investigation.

  • Finding better routes for relief supplies to disaster sites like Houston

    Harvey’s trail of destruction through southern Texas this week is drawing attention to the difficulty of providing relief services in a place where roads, ports, and airports are heavily damaged, if not destroyed. One expert uses mathematical modeling and high-powered computing to develop quicker, more efficient ways of moving something from one place to another. “Commercial supply chains are focused on quality and profitability,” she says. “Humanitarian supply chains are focused on minimizing loss of life and suffering, and distribution is focused on equity and fairness much more than in commercial applications.”

  • Machine-learning shows earthquake-prediction promise

    By listening to the acoustic signal emitted by a laboratory-created earthquake, a computer science approach using machine learning can predict the time remaining before the fault fails. The work not only has potential significance to earthquake forecasting, but the approach is far-reaching, applicable to potentially all failure scenarios including nondestructive testing of industrial materials brittle failure of all kinds, avalanches and other events.

  • Houston’s flooding underscores disaster management challenges of years to come

    As the Earth’s climate changes, many scientists predict that warmer temperatures could lead to intensifying hurricanes, with individual storms dropping more rain. As such, the massive flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in and around Houston may presage the challenges that disaster managers will face in the years ahead.

  • Why Houston isn't ready for Hurricane Harvey

    The brunt of Hurricane Harvey is projected to miss Houston, but the sprawling metropolis is likely to face massive flooding from its third crippling storm in the past three years. It underscores a new reality for the nation’s fourth-largest city: Climate change is making such storms more routine. Meanwhile, unchecked development in the Houston area is wiping out the pasture land that once soaked up floodwaters.

  • FirstNet for emergency communications: Six questions answered

    In the aftermath of 9/11, public safety officials in New York City and around the country realized that firefighters, police officers and ambulance workers needed to be able to talk to each other at an emergency scene – not just to their supervisors and dispatchers. The solution was nearly sixteen years in coming, but on 30 March, the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, was created. “It’s hard to know what we’ll need in twenty-five years – just as twenty-five years ago, it would have been very hard to envision the technical details of today’s interconnected world,” say two experts. “But building FirstNet will help protect and serve both first responders and the public during emergencies – and it will enhance communications in times of peace and prosperity.”

  • Federal funding boosts West Coast’s ShakeAlert system

    The University of Oregon has received $1 million from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to help strengthen the state’s monitoring and disaster-preparation efforts. The funds will be used to install, maintain and operate additional seismic-monitoring sites throughout Oregon, and for engaging pilot users of the ShakeAlert system and the public.

  • Unearthing minefields with controlled burning

    Engineers have developed prototype technology that uses controlled burning to partially reveal landmines buried in peat soil. The technology, called O-Revealer, ignites peat, causing a smoldering fire that strips the upper layer of soil to reveal the landmines – making it easier to dispose of them.

  • Fire and forget: How do you stop a torpedo? With a better torpedo.

    Torpedoes are a lot smarter than they used to be. In the 1980s, the Soviets brought out a torpedo that shot to the head of the class. Instead of looking for a ship, it uses upward-looking sonar to detect a ship’s wake.Now, the U.S. Navy has a potential defense against this threat: an even smarter torpedo. The Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo Torpedo, or CAT, is part of a defense system that can find and destroy a wake-homing torpedo.

  • UN: Two shipments of chemical weapons from North Korea to Syria were intercepted

    North Korea has been caught delivering shipments to a Syrian government agency in charge of the country’s chemical weapons program, according to a confidential UN report on North Korea’s sanctions violations.The United States and Russia brokered a deal in 2013 requiring Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles.

  • Melbourne Christmas Day terror suspects had “mother of Satan” chemicals: Expert

    A court in Australia was told that volatile chemical explosives, nicknamed “mother of Satan,” were found in the possession of four men accused of plotting a Christmas Day terrorist attack in Melbourne. The Australian reports that federal police chemicals expert Dr. Vincent Otieno-Alego told Melbourne magistrates court on Tuesday that he analyzed substances that could produce up to 2g of triacetone triperoxide (TATP).

  • Weapons experts: IAEA needs full access to Parchin to understand Iran’s nuclear program

    In order to understand Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needs full access to Iran’s Parchin military installation, two experts on nuclear weapons wrote in a report published Monday. The report’s authors wrote that the IAEA has inadequate means to investigate possible Iranian violations of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

  • World’s tech leaders call on UN to ban killer robots

    An open letter by 116 tech leaders from 26 countries urges the United Nations against opening the Pandora’s box of lethal robot weapons. The open letter is the first time that AI and robotics companies have taken a joint stance on the issue. “Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” the letter states. “Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

  • Emergency communications in developing countries

    When major emergencies strike, effective communication is critical. Hundreds, if not thousands, of lives can be saved by rapid, clear and well-coordinated communication regarding impending risks, their mitigation, and how to respond when damage is done. Researchers have created a best-practice toolkit to help developing countries rapidly generate and implement life-saving communication plans in the event of local emergencies.