• Forest managers hampered in efforts to control costly wildfires by using prescribed burns

    Fighting wildfires is costly. The U.S. government now spends about $2 billion a year just to stop them, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This is up from $239 million in 1985. Forest managers would prefer to use prescribed burns every few years to help prevent costly wildfires and rebuild unhealthy ecosystems, but hurdles like staffing, budget, liability, and new development hinder them.

  • Broad NSA surveillance powers, granted in 2006, expired on midnight

    The NSA’s broad domestic surveillance authority, granted to the agency when the Patriot Act was first reauthorized in 2006, expired on midnight after the Senate failed to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs surveillance, or approve the House’s USA Freedom Act, which modified Section 215. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. The failure of the Senate to do extend or modify the NSA’s surveillance power was the result of the unyielding position of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and also the result of a miscalculation by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the majority leader, who believed that the prospect of the expiration of Section 215 would lead opponent of the surveillance programs, supporters of the current program, and supporters of the House’s USA Freedom Act to agree to a few weeks extension of Section 215 to allow for more negotiations among senators and between senators and House member. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. It remains to be seen, however, how many, and what type, of amendments McConnell would allow to be brought to the floor, and, if some of these amendments are approved, whether House members would agree to any modifications to the USA Freedom Act.

  • U.S. to increase annual military aid package to Israel from $3 billion to nearly $4 billion

    The U.S. defense aid to Israel will increase after 2017 from the current $3 billion a year to between $3.5 and $4 billion a year, according to both American and Israeli sources. The substantial increase in the military aid package to Israel is the direct result of the negotiations with Iran — and the fact that Sunni states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, will themselves see a major quantitative and qualitative increases in U.S. military aid to them, thus risking the erosion of the Israeli military’s “qualitative edge.” Only last year, the administration, in an effort to accommodate congressionally mandated cuts in the defense budget, informed Israel that the only changes to the package would be adjustment for inflation.

  • France will not sign off on a nuclear deal with Iran if military sites are off limits to inspectors

    Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, said France will not accept a deal on Iran’s nuclear program if Tehran refuses to allow inspections of its military sites as part of the final agreement. Throughout the negotiations with Iran, France has taken a tougher stance toward Iran than the other negotiating countries, known as the P5 + 1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France – and Germany). “France will not accept a deal if it is not clear that inspections can be done at all Iranian installations, including military sites,” Fabius told the national assembly in Paris.

  • Giant surveillance blimp to protect Capitol building

    Lawmakers want to make the Capitol building more secure after existing security measured failed to detect or stop Douglas Hughes who, on 15 April, flew his gyrocopter into the Capitol manicured lawn. Some of these lawmakers want to deploy the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS – a giant blimp carrying 2,000-pounds radars that can spot an aircraft at a distance of 200 miles. Several TARS are already deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, and along a 340-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast stretching from North Carolina to Boston. The blimp loiters at about 10,000 feet – but in order not to mar the Washington, D.C. skyline, lawmakers suggest acquiring a blimp which can hover at a higher altitude.

  • QuakeAlert app to be tested by USGS, CalTech

    Santa Monica, California-based Early Warning Labs says that a new technology it developed in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) can alert users before shaking strikes their location. The app, called QuakeAlert, will alert users with a countdown to when shaking will strike their exact location and tell the user how severe the intensity of the shaking is expected to be in their location. The app will be available for free once USGS approves the technology.

  • view counter
  • NIST publishes first “roadmap” for public safety communications research

    NIST has published the first “roadmap” for the next twenty years of research needed to establish seamless, broadband public safety communications networks across the United States. The new roadmap, the first of a planned series on relevant technologies, focuses on location-based services to improve situational awareness for police, firefighters, emergency medical services, and other first responders. The roadmap was commissioned by NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program, which has been performing research, development, testing and evaluation, and creating standards to support first responder communications since 2002.

  • Iowa State to be home to a new, $20 million national center for forensic science

    NIST has awarded a five-year, up to $20 million grant to establish a Forensic Science Center of Excellence to be based at Iowa State University. The new center will be the third NIST Center of Excellence and the only one focused on forensic sciences. Its primary goal will be to build a statistically sound and scientifically solid foundation under two branches of forensics, pattern evidence (including fingerprints and bullet marks) and digital evidence (including data from cell phones and computers).

  • T. K. Jones, Pentagon official who argued U.S. could survive an all-out nuclear war, dies

    Thomas K. Jones (he preferred to be called “T. K.”), the deputy under-secretary of defense for research and engineering, strategic and theater nuclear forces, died at 82. He became famous in 1982, when, in an interview with the LA Times, he argued that if the United States had a more robust civil defense, most Americans would survive an all-out Soviet nuclear attack. “You can make very good sheltering by taking the doors off your house, digging a trench, stacking the doors about two deep over that, covering it with plastic so that rainwater or something doesn’t screw up the glue in the door, then pile dirt over it.” He added: “It’s the dirt that does it.” He concluded the interview by saying:  “Turns out with the Russian approach, if there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”

  • Israeli military technology sales to Africa increase by 40%

    Israeli weapons exports declined by nearly $1 billion in 214 compared to 2013, but export of Israel-made weapons to African countries increased by 40 percent in 2014 compared with 2013. Israeli armaments industries signed deals worth $318 million in Africa, compared with $223 million in 2013, which itself was an all-time record. Asian and Pacific countries were much larger customers of Israeli arms, though, buying $3 billion worth of Israeli military technology in 2014.

  • Tech companies urge rejection of push by FBI, DOJ for electronic devices “backdoors”

    In a 19 May letter to President Barack Obama, a group of Silicon Valley tech companies, cyber-security experts, and privacy advocacy groups urged the president to reject the implementation of “backdoors” in smartphone and computer encryption. The letter offered evidence of the  strong objection of the tech industry to demands from the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to allow secret backdoor passages into consumer electronics, which would make it possible for law enforcement to read encrypted private communications and data.

  • Researchers use seismic signals to track above-ground explosions

    Seismology has long been used to determine the source characteristics of underground explosions, such as yield and depth, and plays a prominent role in nuclear explosion monitoring. Now, however, some of the same techniques have been modified to determine the strength and source of near and above-ground blasts. Thus, researchers have determined that a tunnel bomb explosion by Syrian rebels was less than sixty tons as claimed by sources. Using seismic stations in Turkey, the researchers created a method to determine source characteristics of near-earth surface explosions. They found the above-ground tunnel bomb blast under the Wadi al-Deif Army Base near Aleppo last spring was likely not as large as originally estimated and was closer to forty tons.

  • Robots to the rescue in disaster situations

    Real-life disaster scenarios have awakened the robotics community to the limitations of existing emergency-response robots. EU-funded researchers are redoubling efforts to ensure that disaster response robots can better support rescue workers in future emergencies. Research in the lab and on-site simulations have helped in improving the capabilities of emergency-response robots in recent years. When real disaster strikes unexpected, however, complications lay bare the limitations of test scenarios. In light of the lessons learned following the Fukushima nuclear accident, researchers are following a range of different pathways to advance emergency-response robotics.

  • House-approved NSA reform bill fails in Senate

    Earlier this morning (Saturday), for the second time in less than a year, the Senate rejected a bill to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone metadata records. The House-approved USA Freedom Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to bring the bill to a vote on the floor (the vote was 57-42 in favor – three votes short). The bill’s opponents used different procedural maneuvering, lasting until the early morning hours Saturday, to block the bill itself from coming to a vote. The failure to pass the House bill – or any bill dealing with bulk collection – means that Senate, when it reconvenes on 31 May, will have only a few hours to decide the fate of Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section which governs data collection and which has given the NSA and FBI broad domestic surveillance powers – before it expires on midnight that day. Senate GOP caucus is deeply divided on the issue, but House Republicans and Democrats exhibit a rare accord.

  • U.S. may support nuke conference proposal challenging Israel’s nuclear program

    Israeli officials expressed concerns that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, which ends today in New York after month-long deliberations, will approve decisions which would pose a major challenge to Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear weapons program. Arab states have already tried, in previous Review Conferences, to push for resolutions calling for making the Middle East a WMD-free zone, in effect, requiring Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the region, to disarm. Israel’s position, supported by the United States and other countries, is that the nuclear arms issue should be dealt with as only one element of the regional security context. Until the 2010 Review Conference – these conferences meet every five years – the United States, acting on understandings reached between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir in September 1969, supported Israel’s position without much quibbling. In 2010, however, there appeared to be differences emerging between Israel’s and the U.S. approach to regional nuclear disarmament. Israel is worried that the United States, now in negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, would support a Spanish compromise proposal which, in Israel’s view, is too close to Egypt’s original proposal which Israel finds unacceptable.