Infrastructure protection

  • Perimeter protectionSensor cable monitors fences—and can even detect low-level drones

    Fenced-in areas, such as airports, nuclear power stations, industrial sites, or private plots of land, can now be monitored thanks to novel sensor technology that has been developed by a team of experimental physicists. The sensors respond immediately as soon as someone tries to climb over or cut through the fence, providing information on the precise location of the security breach.

  • Coastal infrastructureU.K. coastal railways at increasing risk from climate change

    Footage of a railway line suspended in mid-air and buffeted remorselessly by the storm that had caused the sea wall to collapse beneath it made for one of the defining images of 2014. Scenes such as those witnessed at Dawlish in Devon are set to become more frequent as a result of climate change, and the U.K. government and rail companies must face up to difficult funding decisions if rural areas currently served by coastal lines are to continue to be connected to the rail network. For railway builders in the mid-nineteenth century the coast was cheaper, flatter, and easier than using inland sites, one expert points out. “We wouldn’t have built these railway lines where they are if we had today’s knowledge.”

  • Water infrastructureEarthquake-proofing L.A.’s water infrastructure

    Since Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced his earthquake-safety proposal in December 2014, public attention has focused on requirements to retrofit old vulnerable buildings, but the plan also calls for fortifying the city’s vast network of water pipes and aqueducts. Water infrastructure is “the single biggest vulnerability we’re facing in Southern California,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, who helped develop Garcetti’s earthquake-safety plans.

  • CybersecurityA 2-square-meter model city shows cyber-threats real cities face

    In a secret location in New Jersey, Ed Skoudis operates CyberCity, a model town of 15,000 people, which employs the same software and control systems used by power and water utilities in major cities. CyberCity has its own Internet service provider, bank, media outlets, military base, hospital, and school. The two-square-meter model town serves as a mock staging ground for the cyber threats faced by city officials around the world. There, computer security professionals get offensive and defensive training in their battle against hackers. Skoudis, founder of CounterHack, designed CyberCity four years ago when military clients complained that most cybersecurity training felt too much like video games.

  • CybersecurityAir-gapped computer systems can be hacked by using heat: Researchers

    Computers and networks are air-gapped – that is, kept approximately fifteen inches (40 cm) apart — when they need to be kept highly secure and isolated from unsecured networks, such as the public Internet or an unsecured local area network. Typically, air-gapped computers are used in financial transactions, mission critical tasks, or military applications. Israeli researchers have discovered a new method, called BitWhisper, to breach air-gapped computer systems. The new method enables covert, two-way communications between adjacent, unconnected PC computers using heat – meaning that hackers to hack information from inside an air-gapped network, as well as transmit commands to it.

  • InfrastructureDamage-sensing, self-repairing concrete

    Skin is renewable and self-repairing — our first line of defense against the wear and tear of everyday life. If damaged, a myriad of repair processes spring into action to protect and heal the body. Clotting factors seal the break, a scab forms to protect the wound from infection, and healing agents begin to generate new tissue. Taking inspiration from this remarkable living healthcare package, researchers are asking whether damage sensing and repair can be engineered into a quite different material: concrete. Their aim is to produce a “material for life,” one with an in-built first-aid system that responds to all manner of physical and chemical damage by self-repairing, over and over again.

  • Coastal infrastructureRising sea level will double Hawaii’s coastal erosion by mid-century

    New research brings into clearer focus just how dramatically Hawaiʻi beaches might change as sea level rises in the future. Chronic erosion dominates the sandy beaches of Hawaiʻi, causing beach loss as it damages homes, infrastructure, and critical habitat. Researchers have long understood that global sea level rise will affect the rate of coastal erosion. The research team developed a simple model to assess future erosion hazards under higher sea levels, taking into account historical changes of Hawaiʻi shorelines and the projected acceleration of sea level rise reported from the IPCC. The results indicate that coastal erosion of Hawaiʻi’s beaches may double by mid-century.

  • Tipping pointsPolicy makers discount damages from future climate tipping points – but they should not

    Most methods that weigh up the costs and benefits of tackling climate change ignore climate tipping points, and especially the uncertainty surrounding them. Instead, they assume that future damages from climate change are known perfectly and can therefore be discounted at a rate comparable to the market interest rate – thus reducing the willingness to pay now to protect future generations. New research shows, however, that the prospect of an uncertain future tipping point should greatly increase the amount we are willing to pay now to limit climate change. The study argues that society should set a high carbon tax now to try and prevent climate change reaching a point of no return.

  • Coastal infrastructureJapan debating 400 km sea wall to protect coast from tsunami, floods

    Four years after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami destroyed much of Japan’s northeastern coast, officials are reviewing plans for a $6.8 billion, 400 kilometer chain of concrete seawalls for protecting coastal towns from future flooding and tsunamis. Opponents say the project will harm fisheries and damage marine ecology and scenery, while offering little, if any, actual protection and creating unjustified complacency among coastal residents. Former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa is leading a Green Wall coalition which calls for an alternative: planting mixed forests along the coasts on tall mounds of soil or rubble, creating a living green wall which would last long after the concrete walls have crumbled. The green wall project would not completely prevent flooding but it would slow tsunamis and weaken the force of their waves.

  • Infrastructure protectionA first: UAV inspects energy pipeline route in rural Virginia

    The first Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech test flight using a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft to inspect an energy pipeline route — with a piloted chase plane following behind to ensure safety beyond the ground observers’ sight line — was completed last week. The flight was a step toward making aerial inspections of energy pipelines safer and more economical, researchers say. The flight lasted about ninety minutes and covered about eleven miles over a Colonial Pipeline Company right of way near Fork Union in rural Virginia.

  • Space debrisUsing fishing nets to snag derelict satellites

    The European Space Agency (ESA) is testing the feasibility of removing a large item of debris in orbit — either a large derelict satellite or rocket upper stage – to help control the debris levels in busy orbits. The best method of snagging an uncontrolled, tumbling satellite is still being decided. ESA’s Clean Space initiative to reduce the impact of the space industry on the terrestrial and orbital environments is overseeing studies which include a robotic arm, a harpoon, and an ion beam – but one of humanity’s oldest technologies, the humble fishing net, may yet find a new role in space, as it appears to offer the most effective way to bring down dead satellites.

  • FloodsBlowing up Mississippi River levee reduced 2011 flood risk

    A controversial decision in 2011 to blow up Mississippi River levees reduced the risk of flooding in a city upstream, lowering the height of the rain-swollen river just before it reached its peak, according to a new analysis. “Our model’s not saying the water would have definitely overtopped the levees at Cairo,” says one of the study’s authors. “It doesn’t say it wouldn’t have happened. What we’re saying is that detonation reduced the risk of flooding.” The new research found that allowing those levees to overtop naturally would have resulted in less erosion – so they urge greater control of erosion in future scenarios involving blowing up levees.

  • ResilienceEconomists count true business costs of climate change

    A new report, prepared for leading social housing provider Aster Group, urges businesses to consider the true financial costs of climate change in order to better plan for extreme weather events. From countering the effects of extreme winter weather to summer heat waves, the report highlights three main risk factors: flooding, subsidence, and the risk of over-heating for elderly residents. The report pinpoints detailed cost implications for the organization were no actions to be taken.

  • Water infrastructureU.S. water infrastructure in crisis as a result of lack of investment

    Over the past decades, America’s water infrastructure has deteriorated, lacking the much needed investment to secure and ensure the sustainability of a vital natural resource. An analysis of U.S. infrastructure investment shows that spending on capital improvements to U.S. ports, for example, has averaged $10 billion annually over the last ten years. By 2025, that figure will reach $20 billion annually. In contrast, U.S. capital investments in water supply and wastewater treatment was roughly $2 billion annually over the last decade. It is projected to reach just $3 billion annually by 2025. “Our water infrastructure is in a state of crisis that is only exacerbated by the effects of climate change, growing populations and demand. The longer we ignore the problem, the more it costs us,” said Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).

  • ResilienceStates must consider climate change threats to be eligible for FEMA disaster preparation funds

    Roughly every five years, states publish reports detailing their vulnerability to natural disasters, qualifying them for part of the nearly $1 billion aid money administered annually by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). States looking to receive grants from the federal Hazard Mitigation Assistance program to help them prepare for natural disasters such as floods, storms, and wildfires will have,beginning next year, to consider the threats posed by climate change.