• 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.

  • High school, college engineering students test their skills in RoboSub competition

    More than 300 high school and college engineering students tested their mechanical, electrical, computer, and systems engineering skills, as well as their presentation skills and teamwork, while competing for cash prizes at the recent 20th International RoboSub Competition.

  • Creating reliable emergency communications networks

    When disaster strikes, it is important for first responders to have reliable, unhindered access to a controlled network, allowing them to receive and deliver critical information while ensuring effective emergency response. Unfortunately this is currently not the case. Due to power outages and cell tower damages, the infrastructure for communications is not readily available during the response to an incident or disaster, and furthermore, the cost of this infrastructure is unreasonable, even for large organizations.

  • The focal point: White supremacy

    The weekend clashes between white nationalist demonstrators and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia., which killed a 32-year-old woman and injured others has reignited long-simmering fears that racist hate groups are resurgent nationally and now may feel emboldened to push their goals publicly. Bart Bonikowski, an associate professor in Harvard’s Sociology Department, has studied the discourse of populist movements in the United States and Europe, with an emphasis on the processes that animate nationalist political movements. He says that he doubts that he doubts that the widespread public backlash suggests these groups might dial back their incendiary efforts. “It’s hard to predict the future, but I doubt that this will be the case. As I mentioned, these movements thrive when they receive attention in the media, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. And in this case, they’re getting the media attention as well as support from the president. So, if anything, this is likely to give them an incentive to hold more rallies and become more extremist in their practices.”

  • The First Amendment and the Nazi flag

    In the wake of the 12 August confrontations between protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, some progressives are calling for legal restrictions on the display of the Nazi flag. These arguments are entirely understandable, but they often misapply existing First Amendment law, and they suppress free speech values that progressives — more than anyone else — should want to defend, says a Constitutional law expert.

  • Detecting concealed weapon, threat is not easy, and experience is no help to police officers

    Detecting potential threats is part of the job for police officers, military personnel and security guards. Terrorist attacks and bombings at concerts, sporting events and airports underscore the need for accurate and reliable threat detection. However, the likelihood of a police officer identifying someone concealing a gun or bomb is only slightly better than chance, according to new research. Officers with more experience were even less accurate.