Infrastructure

  • A third of American schoolchildren face risk of chemical catastrophe

    Chemical factories, refineries, bleach manufacturing, water and waste water treatment, and other facilities that produce, use, or store significant quantities of certain chemicals identified as hazardous to human health or the environment must report to the Risk Management Program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A new interactive map and study find that one in three American schoolchildren attends school within the danger zone of a hazardous chemical facility. They found 19.6 million children in public and private schools in forty-eight states are within the vulnerability zone of at least one chemical facility, according to data the facilities provide to the EPA.

  • Resilient electric grid feasibility study launched in Chicago

    Currently, many urban-area electrical substations are not connected to each other because of the amount of copper cables that would be required to move massive amounts of power as well as the risk of damaging equipment. With the existing infrastructure, if one substation loses power, all electricity in that area is lost until the substation comes back up. The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has partnered with Massachusetts-based Company, AMSC, to develop a new superconductor cable — part of a Resilient Electric Grid (REG) program — that may enable urban utilities to “keep the lights on” during severe events.

  • Los Angeles revises rule requiring flat rooftops for skyscrapers

    For more than forty years, the building code in Los Angeles required skyscrapers to have flat roofs in order to facilitate helicopter landing in cases of emergency. Now, however, with newer technological advances and techniques that enable Angelinos to be safe during an emergency, the flat-roof code is seen as outdated, and it was changed on Monday. Instead of helicopter pads, skyscraper designers will now focus on other safety features, including special elevators for fire fighters, special exit stairwells, advanced sprinkler systems, and video surveillance technologies.

  • L.A. considering first responses to the inevitable Big One

    Often referred to as the “Big One,” the inevitable cataclysmic earthquake that will eventually strike at the San Andreas Fault throughout the city of Los Angeles is expected to be incredibly destructive. According to seismologists, it is no longer a question of “if,” but more just “when.” Preparedness experts identify several key parts of the greater Los Angeles infrastructure that will need to have firm response plans in place to deal with the fallout of a major disaster, specifically transportation and communication —– the two things needed to coordinate and react to everything else.

  • Storm-surge app improves public and administration responses to flooding

    An environmental group called Wetlands Watch in Virginia has integrated crowd-sourcing into the Sea Level Rise app, allowing users to issue and receive alerts in real-time regarding waterlogged streets and improve public safety.The newest evolution of the app is expected to be launched within the next few weeks and the information provided and distributed to users will also be tracked by scientists and emergency planners to better grasp the flood patterns in the region and how to prepare for them.

  • Risks grow as Americans continue to build on eroding coast

    More than two million housing units have been built along the nation’s coast within the last twenty years, and as the American economy recovers after years of recession, development along the U.S. coastline is steadily increasing. Scientists warn, however, that building along coastlines could put life and property at risk due to erosion, rising sea levels, and storm damage.

  • New approach can change climate negotiations

    Researchers argue that the most important recent innovation in the discussion over how to slow down global warming is the adoption of a “cumulative emissions” approach to emissions of carbon dioxide. The researchers say that though, in the short term, this promises to challenge negotiators trying to achieve a meaningful international climate change agreement, in the longer term it ought to help them focus on the things that matter most. The virtue of using the cumulative emissions approach is clarity: By finding a simpler way to express the overall scale of the problem, the approach – and the IPCC and Calderón reports — give governments and other players less room to pretend that opportunistic or short-term tweaks to emissions paths are sufficient to meet the goals they have set themselves.

  • Better regional coordination for port security

    In the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, first responders in the Northeast were suddenly responsible for monitoring potential targets, including a military base, nuclear power plants, and a deep water port. Emergency teams soon found out that they were ill-equipped to coordinate with one another. That realization prompted better organization among regional first responders.

  • South Carolina reflects on Hurricane Hugo anniversary

    The state of South Caroline has just eyed the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hurricane Hugo – the Category 4 storm that hit the coast on 21 September 1989 with sustained maximum winds of 138 mph. Many in the state still honor that event, and live with the memory of the severe coastal damage due to drastic storm surges and the forty-nine lives lost during the disaster. The storm also left 60,000 people homeless, with 270,000 temporarily unemployed and 54,000 residents seeking monetary assistance. Extending far beyond that were many others who did not have power for two weeks or longer.

  • A second drum at nuke waste repository poses radiation leak danger

    At a recent meeting of the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee in Carlsbad, officials were informed that a second waste drum containing nuclear materials, could also contain the same mix of ingredients as the waste drum from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) which caused a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in February.

  • Increased use of natural gas will have little effect on CO2 emissions: Study

    Abundant supplies of natural gas will do little to reduce harmful U.S. emissions causing climate change, according to researchers. They found that inexpensive gas boosts electricity consumption and hinders expansion of cleaner energy sources, such as wind and solar.

  • Protecting the electric grid, communication systems from solar storms

    Considered the strongest solar storm on record, the 1859 Carrington Event disrupted telegraph operators and crippled communications systems. Today, even mild scale eruptions could disrupt communications technology and power grids, as bursts known as coronal mass ejections cause vibrations in the Earth’s magnetic field. According to NASA, those vibrations cause electric currents that can overwhelm circuitry and lead to prolong shutdowns. Solar researchers are working to develop monitors that can predict which solar storms can disrupt electric grids and global communications systems.

  • Reduce river pollution through water-quality trading

    Allowing polluters to buy, sell, or trade water-quality credits could significantly reduce pollution in river basins and estuaries faster and at lower cost than requiring the facilities to meet compliance costs on their own, a new study finds. The scale and type of the trading programs, though critical, may matter less than just getting them started.

  • NSF awards $15 million in second round of coastal sustainability grants

    More than half the world’s human population lived in coastal areas in the year 2000; that number is expected to rise to 75 percent by 2025. If current population trends continue, projections are for the crowded U.S. coast to see its population grow from 123 million people to nearly 134 million people by 2020. In wake of storms such as Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, the NSF awards focus on better management of coastal environments.

  • To stay below 2°C warming, coal’s rapid phase out is essential, but not enough

    A rapid phase out of coal as an electricity source by 2050 would reduce warming by half a degree, according to a new study. The study authors ran a number of scenarios around phasing out fossil fuel emissions from the electricity sector, which produces around 40 percent of global C02 emissions. The electricity sector needs to be decarbonized faster than other sectors, but instead is heading in the opposite direction, increasing carbon intensity and significantly driven by increased coal use, and making it one of the largest sources of recent carbon emission increases.