Public Safety

  • Smartphones can save life in health emergencies

    MAs more Americans adopt smartphones for communicating, managing calendars, and storing contacts, but these all-in-one devices could also be used to save lives in health emergencies. Companies are developing apps that allow users to store health data which can then be accessed by emergency services personnel or physicians.

  • Sunday tremor may accelerate deployment of West Coast early warning system

    Researchers and individuals working with California’s ShakeAlertsystem received a 10-second warning before last Sunday’s earthquake struck the San FranciscoBay Area at 3.20 a.m. “Earthquake! Earthquake!” the warning system cautioned, followed by “Light shaking expected in three seconds.” Mexico and Japan already have a public earthquake warning system, but a collaboration in California among several institutions to create a similar system is still in an experimental phase. The project needs about $80 million for equipment, software, and other seismic infrastructure upgrades to launch the warning system throughout the West Coast.

  • NIST to establish Center of Excellence for Forensic Science

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced a competition to create a Forensic Science Center of Excellence dedicated to collaborative, interdisciplinary research. The center’s mission will be to establish a firm scientific foundation for the analytic techniques used in two important branches of forensic science, pattern evidence and digital evidence. The new NIST-sponsored center will focus on developing probabilistic methods for dealing with pattern evidence and digital evidence. Pattern evidence encompasses much of what is typically thought of as forensic evidence: fingerprints, shoeprints, tire marks, tool marks, shell casing, or bullet striations — anything that relies on comparing two sets of markings. Digital evidence includes such things as the data on cellphones or personal computers.

  • U.S. military seeks to break the “more armor” paradigm for protection

    For the past 100 years of mechanized warfare, protection for ground-based armored fighting vehicles and their occupants has boiled down almost exclusively to a simple equation: More armor equals more protection. The trend of increasingly heavy, less mobile, and more expensive combat platforms has limited soldiers’ ability rapidly to deploy and maneuver in theater and accomplish their missions in varied and evolving threat environments. The U.S. military is now at a point where — considering tactical mobility, strategic mobility, survivability, and cost — innovative and disruptive solutions are necessary to ensure the operational viability of the next generation of armored fighting vehicles.

  • Changes to Pentagon equipment transfers to local police not likely

    Some lawmakers and their constituents are calling for restrictions on the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which transfers excess military equipment to law-enforcement agencies through the Defense Logistics AgencyLaw Enforcement Support Office. Congressional insiders say, however, that little will be done in the short-term.

  • Drawing lessons from “perfect heists” for national security

    In 2003, the unthinkable happened at Belgium’s Antwerp Diamond Center. Thieves broke into its reputedly impenetrable vault and made off with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds, gold, cash and other valuables. The Antwerp Diamond Center theft and other sophisticated, high-value heists show that motivated criminals can find ways to overcome every obstacle between them and their targets. Can the Energy and Defense departments, responsible for analyzing, designing, and implementing complex systems to protect vital national security assets, learn from security failures in the banking, art, and jewelry worlds?

  • Bullets database to help match bullets, cartridge cases to specific firearms

    Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are working to improve ballistics matching methods with assistance from the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Police Department Crime Laboratory. Their work together will contribute to a collection of topographic data from thousands of fired bullets and cartridge cases. The collection, which they ultimately plan to issue as an open research database, will improve the scientific basis of forensic techniques used to match bullets and cartridge cases to specific firearms.

  • Lawmakers reconsider transfer of military gear to local police

    Federal officials are considering placing restrictions on the 1990 Department of Defense Excess Property (1033) Program which authorized the Pentagon to give surplus military equipment to local law enforcement units to fight the war on drugs. The program was later explained as also heling in the fight against terrorism. Though violent crime nationwide is at its lowest levels in decades, the transfers of military equipment to police forces have surged.

  • Smart-gun design met with suspicion by gun rights advocates

    Ernst Mauch, a mainstay of the weapons industry and a long-term gunmaker at Heckler & Koch, has recently upset gun rights advocates, who used to praise his work, with his new computer-assisted smart gun design. The new gun incorporates twenty-first century computing and intelligence features to eliminate the potential for danger in the wrong hands: it will only operate if the owner is wearing a special wrist watch.

  • Three infected Liberian health workers receive rare Ebola serum

    Three Liberian health care workers who have been infected with the Ebola virus while treating patients, have on Friday received a scarce experimental serum – Zmapp — at a hospital outside the national capital, Monrovia, the Liberian capital. This is the same serum given to two American workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who contracted Ebola while working at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia. Brantly and Writebol were evacuated to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where they have been showing promising signs of recovering from the disease. Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, which provided the drug, said the “available supply of ZMapp has been exhausted.”

  • The militarization of local police

    The killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year old African American by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, and the use by the Ferguson police of armored personnel carriers, machine-guns on tripods, stun grenades, and other military gear in a heavy-handed effort to disperse demonstrators protesting the killing, raised anew the question of the adoption of military equipment by local police departments. Critics say that more and more police departments now resemble military units, and that military gear is used in cases where it should not – as was the case in a small Florida town in 2010, when officers in SWAT gear drew out their guns on raids on barbershops that mostly led to charges of “barbering without a license.”

  • New device sniffs out billions in U.S. currency smuggled across the border

    Criminals are smuggling an estimated $30 billion in U.S. currency into Mexico each year from the United States, but help could be on the way for border guards, researchers reported. The answer to the problem: a portable device that identifies specific vapors given off by U.S. paper money.

  • A heathy fear of crime is a good thing

    In the past half-century, fear of crime in the United States has fueled “white flight” from big cities, become known as a quality of life issue, and prompted scholars and law enforcement experts to address ways of reducing this fear. A new study argues, however, that a healthy fear of crime is, in fact, a good thing. The study suggests adolescents who are more fearful of crime are less apt to become victims and offenders of violent acts.

  • Harris protests FBI’s Motorola radio upgrade contract

    The Harris Corp. has become the second contractor, afterRELM Wireless Corp., formally to protest the FBI’s decision to award a $500 million non-bid contract to Motorola Solutions Inc., claiming the contract to upgrade the FBI’s 30-year-old two-way radio network was “factually unsound, legally unwarranted and wholly unnecessary.”

  • Crime rates affected by who has administrative, budgetary responsibility for prisons

    In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court forced California to deal with the massive overcrowding in its prison system. The resulting reform shifted administrative and budgetary responsibility for low-level criminals from the state prison system to county jails. As a result, local California jails now face more overcrowding than ever, and local law enforcement is saddled with additional costs for imprisoning arrestees. In Israel, the trend has been in the opposite direction: an administrative reform which transferred authority over jails from the police to the Prison Authority resulted in the police sending more people to jail. A new study found that police are more inclined to issue arrests when prisons have administrative responsibility for detainees. The effect on crime: crime in Israel dropped as a result of the reform largely because the police — feeling less budgetary pressure — felt free to arrest more suspects, many of whom would have gotten off in the past with a warning.