Public Safety

  • Improved performance of facial recognition software

    Who is that stranger in your social media photo? A click on the face reveals the name in seconds, almost as soon as you can identify your best friend. While that handy app is not quite ready for your smart phone, researchers are racing to develop reliable methods to match one person’s photo from millions of images for a variety of applications.

  • All-natural mixture offers promising fire retardant

    What sounds like fixings for a wizard’s potion — a dash of clay, a dab of fiber from crab shells, and a dollop of DNA— actually are the ingredients of promising green fire retardants invented by NIST researchers. Applied to polyurethane foam, the bio-based coatings greatly reduced the flammability of the common furniture padding after it was exposed to an open flame. Peak and average rates of heat release — two key indicators of the magnitude of a fire hazard — were reduced by 48 percent and 77 percent.

  • NSA, other agencies, collect millions of images for large facial recognition databases

    The NSA, through its global surveillance operations, has been accumulating millions of images from communication interceptions for use in high-level facial recognition programs, according to classified 2011 documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The documents do not reveal how many people have been targeted with facial recognition programs, but given the NSA’s foreign intelligence mission, a bulk of the imagery collected would involve foreign nationals.

  • House passes measure requiring review of intelligence sharing practices

    In the bill is the first legislation written in response to shortcomings revealed by the Boston marathon bombings,the House of Representatives last Friday approved a measure which requires the FBI, DHS, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to review their information sharing practices and report back to Congress within ninety days. Post-bombing investigation concluded that had intelligence agencies shared information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, prior to the incident, local law enforcement authorities may have been able to monitor Tsarnaev’s actions.

  • Urgent need: Dirty bomb detection technology which does not rely on helium

    It has taken 4.7 billion years for Earth to accumulate our helium reserves, but these reserves are dwindling at an alarming rate, and will be exhausted by around 2025. The supplies we have originated in the very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks, and there is no chemical way to manufacture helium. The Department of Defense and other agencies use Helium-3 (He-3) to detect neutrons emanating from Special Nuclear Material (SNM) in order to counter the threat of nuclear-fueled explosives such as dirty bombs. Since the supply of He-3 is rapidly drying up, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded a $2.8 million contract to Alion Science and Technology to develop a replacement technology which will detect neutrons without relying on He-3.

  • The Pentagon integrates climate change into military planning

    With the release of the National Climate Assessment last month, a clearer picture has emerged of the official policy-related interpretation of climate change data. The debate may still go on amongst civilian branches of government, and between the administration and its critics, the Pentagon, for some time now, has already been integrating climate change-related policies into its daily operations across all branches of the military.

  • Rio builds a high tech integrated urban command center

    Rio de Janeiro is one of the most densely populated cities in South America. Much of the city is vulnerable to flooding, and about three-quarters of Rio’s districts have areas at risk of landslides. High temperatures can make living situations unbearable. In addition, a high crime rate and poor infrastructure make the city difficult to govern. In preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, authorities are looking to improve response times to disasters and establish a more efficient system to deal with the city’s many challenges. One of the solutions is a high tech integrated urban command center — Centro de Operações Preifetura do Rio de Janeiro (COR) – which unites Rio’s thirty departments and some private suppliers in a single monitoring room where operators can track real-time conditions of the city and coordinate a response to emergencies and disruptions.

  • Nature-inspired designs for drones of the future

    Based on the mechanisms adopted by birds, bats, insects, and snakes, fourteen research teams have developed solutions to some of the common problems that drones could be faced with when navigating through an urban environment and performing novel tasks for the benefit of society. Whether this is avoiding obstacles, picking up and delivering items, or improving the take-off and landing on tricky surfaces, it is hoped the solutions can lead to the deployment of drones in complex urban environments in a number of different ways, from military surveillance and search and rescue efforts to flying camera phones and reliable courier services.

  • Guard fired for Y-12 breach says he was made a scapegoat for contractor’s failings

    Kirk Garland, a security guard at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was fired from his job two weeks after three aging peace activists, led by an 82-year old nun, managed, on 28 July 2012, to breach the facility’s supposedly impregnable perimeter security systems, then loiter, unnoticed, on the grounds of the facility, where bomb grade uranium is stored. The activists had enough time to spray-paint peace messages and Bible verses on walls, slosh the walls with human blood, and wrap one of the buildings with crime-scene tape. In an arbitration hearing, Garland argued that he was made a scapegoat for the larger failings of the then-security contractor,Wackenhut Services.

  • New compound offers protection against chemical weapons

    Researchers have discovered that some compounds called polyoxoniobates can degrade and decontaminate nerve agents such as the deadly sarin gas, and have other characteristics that may make them ideal for protective suits, masks or other clothing. The use of polyoxoniobates for this purpose had never before been demonstrated, scientists said, and the discovery could have important implications for both military and civilian protection. A UN report last year concluded that sarin gas was used in the conflict in Syria.

  • Robot warfare raises ethical question

    Remote-controlled drones could one day give way to automated robot forces. With the increasing use of drones in military operations, it is perhaps only a matter of time before robots replace soldiers. Whether or not fully automated war is on the immediate horizon, researchers say it is not too early to start examining the ethical issues that robot armies raise.

  • Mustard plants help detect use of chemical weapons

    Making nations comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention requires that scientists can accurately detect the use of chemical warfare agents. Currently they carry out tests on soil from areas where use is suspected. Many nerve agents composed of organo-phosophorous compounds, however, leach from soil over time, removing the evidence of use and making verifying the deployment of chemical weapons like sarin, soman, and VX difficult. Researchers report that white mustard plants can help by allowing detection for up to forty-five days after the chemical weapons were used.

  • Snowden revelations spur a surge in encrypted e-mail services

    The Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency(N.S.A) surveillance programs have fueled a surge of new e-mail encryption services. “A lot of people were upset with those revelations, and that coalesced into this effort,” said the co-developer of a new encrypted e-mail service which launched last Friday. The company notes that its servers are based in Switzerland, making it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement to reach them.

  • Hitting the reset button on Secure Communities

    Last Tuesday law enforcement officials said they anticipate a “reboot” of the controversial immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, in which police officers are asked to submit fingerprints taken by police to DHS so the individuals stopped by the police can be screened for deportation eligibility. Critics argue the program leads to too many low-level criminals and non-criminals being turned over to immigration authorities, and in addition to the cost involved in the process, the program could make witnesses and victims of crime reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement.

  • Converting light to sound for better weapons detection, medical imaging

    A device that essentially listens for light waves could help open up the last frontier of the electromagnetic spectrum — the terahertz range. So-called T-rays, which are light waves too long for human eyes to see, could help airport security guards find chemical and other weapons. They might let doctors image body tissues with less damage to healthy areas. They could also give astronomers new tools to study planets in other solar systems. Those are just a few possible applications.