Infrastructure protection

  • Disaster recoveryPlacing people in affordable homes within days, not years, after major storms

    On Monday, Housing and Urban Developmentsecretary Julian Castro toured the core of a house in Brownsville, Texas, as part of the RAPIDO project, which local officials hope will one day become the model for housing recovery after a major storm. The house is part of a $2 million pilot project which relies on low construction expenses and affordable labor to get people in affordable homes within days of a major disaster instead of years. While hundreds of affordable homes have been built since Hurricane Dolly and Ike destroyed a vast portion of the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008, many residents are still waiting for houses already funded with federal disaster money.

  • FloodsBetter forecasts for rain-on-snow flooding

    Many of the worst West Coast winter floods pack a double punch. Heavy rains and melting snow wash down the mountains together to breach river banks, wash out roads and flood buildings. These events are unpredictable and difficult to forecast. Yet they will become more common as the planet warms and more winter precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Mountain hydrology experts are using the physics behind these events to better predict the risks.

  • Planetary securityBe prepared: What to do if an asteroid is heading our way

    Last month, experts from European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program and Europe’s national disaster response organizations met for a two-day exercise on what to do if an asteroid is ever found to be heading our way. The exercise considered the threat from an imaginary, but plausible, asteroid, initially thought to range in size from twelve meters to thirty-eight meters — spanning roughly the range between the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst and the 1908 Tunguska event — and travelling at 12.5 km/s. Teams were challenged to decide what should happen at five critical points in time, focused on 30, 26, 5, and 3 days before and one hour after impact.

  • Cyberattacks2008 Turkish oil pipeline explosion may have been Stuxnet precursor

    The August 2008 Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline explosion in Refahiye, eastern Turkey, was ruled at the time to be an accident resulting from a mechanical failure, which itself was a result of an oversight by Turkish government’s supervisors. Western intelligence services concluded that the explosion was the result of a cyberattack. According to people familiar with an investigation of the incident, hackers had infiltrate the pipeline’s surveillance systems and valve stations, and super-pressurized the crude oil in the pipeline, causing the explosion.

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  • Flood protectionBetter defense barriers and technologies for better protection against floods

    Hurricanes are devastating. Aside from the high, sustained wind speeds, they usually bring with them heavy rain, which can quickly lead to the breaching of flood defenses in susceptible areas. Now, U.S. and U.K. researchers have reviewed hurricane flood defense barriers and technologies with a view to helping engineers find improved designs.

  • Flood protectionCoastal defenses could contribute to flooding with sea-level rise

    A combination of coastal defenses and rising sea levels could change typical U.K. tidal ranges, potentially leading to a higher risk of flooding, say scientists. The researchers wanted to find out how tides around the United Kingdom might respond to changes in sea level over the next century depending on the level of coastal defenses in place. Their study shows for the first time that local coastal defenses, such as sea walls, could cause tides to change dramatically. It suggests flood defenses need to be reassessed on an international scale as they may lead to an increased risk of flooding.

  • CybersecurityFBI moves cyberthreats to top of law-enforcement agenda

    FBI director James Comey said combatting cybercrime and other cyber threats are now top FBI priority. “It (the Internet) is transforming human relationships in ways we’ve never seen in human history before,” Comey said. “I see a whole lot of hacktivists, I see a whole lot of international criminal gangs, very sophisticated thieves,” he added. “I see people hurting kids, tons of pedophiles, an explosion of child pornography.” In October Comey urged Congress to require tech companies to put “backdoors” in apps and operating systems. Such a move would allow law enforcement officials to better to monitor suspected criminals who often escape the law using encryption and anti-surveillance computer software.

  • Earthquake early warningCongressional funding allows partial roll-out of Calif. seismic early warning system

    California officials applauded the U.S. Senate approval of the $1.1-trillion spending package, which allocated $5 million to fund expansion of the state’s earthquake early-warning system dubbed ShakeAlert.In 2015, a select number of schools will receive earthquake alerts to warn students and teachers to drop and cover before shaking begins, fire stations will be alerted to open their garage doors before electricity goes out and prevents doors from opening, and some hospitals will receive notice to suspend surgeries.

  • Sony hackingCyber whodunnit: North Korea prime suspect but there are many potential culprits

    By Alan Woodward

    Many suspect North Korea to be behind the attack on Sony Pictures. North Korea quite possibly has motive, means, and opportunity to carry out this attack on Sony, but as with any successful prosecution, that isn’t enough. We need evidence. We will have to wait for the detailed forensic work to complete before we stand a realistic chance of knowing for certain. That may or may not be forthcoming, but in the meantime we should consider what this event tells us about the balance of power in cyberspace. In a world in which major disruption can be caused with scant resources and little skill, all enemies are a threat. North Korea might be the rogue state that everyone loves to hate but there are plenty of others who could have done it. There is no longer a tiered approach of superpowers fighting proxy wars in smaller, developing nations. Now those developing nations can fight back, and you might not even know it was them.

  • Coastal infrastructurePower grids in coastal U.S. cities increasingly vulnerable as a result of climate change

    Cities such as Miami are all too familiar with hurricane-related power outages. A new analysis finds, however, that climate change will give other major metropolitan areas a lot to worry about in the future. Johns Hopkins University engineers created a computer model to predict the increasing vulnerability of power grids in major coastal cities during hurricanes. By factoring historic hurricane information with plausible scenarios for future storm behavior, the team determined which of twenty-seven cities, from Texas to Maine, will become more susceptible to blackouts from future hurricanes. The team’s analysis could help metropolitan areas better plan for climate change.

  • Infrastructure protectionImpact of solar storm on U.S. infrastructure cannot be predicted with certainty

    Of the many threats to the U.S. electric grid, from cyberattacks to terrorism, industry experts agree that the most catastrophic, yet least likely to occur, threat is a magnetic space storm which could shut down the grid and cause other infrastructure to fail. Previous large scale solar storms include the 1859 Carrington Event — the strongest storm on record — and a March 1989 coronal mass ejection which caused a 9-hour blackout in Quebec.

  • Coastal infrastructureN.C. panel to issue sea-level rise forecast to guide coastal, infrastructure development

    Scientists with the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission(CRC) will have their last public meeting today (Monday) before the group issues its projections on sea level rise around the state’s coastal areas. In a 2010 forecast, the science panel concluded that North Carolina’s sea levels would increase by thirty-nine inches by 2100. Climate-change skeptics and coastal developers opposed the report, and in 2012 persuaded the state legislature to bar any state agency from adopting a policy based on any sea level forecast. The legislature modified the CRC’s mandate by limiting its projections to 30-year periods and instructing it to focus on four separate zones and not the entire state projections. The CRC will submit it report to the legislature on 1 March 2016.

  • Nuclear powerUltrasonic robot inspects pipes at nuclear power plant

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    GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) the other day announced that its ultrasonic robot, Surveyor, successfully inspected a section of underground pipe at the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station. The inspection at the site of two Westinghouse-built pressurized water reactors near Bay City, Texas, marks the first deployment of the state-of-the-art robot at a nuclear power plant.

  • Coastal infrastructureFlorida's First Coast region trying to cope with rising seas

    City planners in Florida’s First Coast region are taking steps to avoid massive destruction to property and human life as sea level rise is expected to cause mass flooding and super storms during the next few decades. Some groups are lobbying for coastal property-insurance reforms, while others are researching ways to help historic properties manage flooding.

  • Infrastructure protectionExploring ways to deal with Great Lakes water-level changes

    Extreme water-level fluctuations in the Great Lakes, including historic lows on lakes Michigan and Huron in 2013 and substantial upward trends in 2014, are creating serious challenges for many shoreline property owners, tourism-related businesses, municipal planners, and others. To help these community decision makers determine the best strategies for dealing with these water-level changes, a two-tiered, two-year research initiative has been launched with the goal of developing information, tools, and partnerships to help decision makers address challenges and opportunities posed by water-level variability.