• California needs to rethink urban fire risk, starting with where it builds houses

    With widespread damage to structures, the wildfires raging across southern California highlight the importance of where and how we build our communities and, in particular, how land use planning and better building codes can reduce our exposure to such events. Despite an aversion by some to land use planning, this strategy is simply common sense. It will also save lives and massive amounts of public resources over the long term. Where we do choose to develop and inhabit hazard-prone environments, it may be necessary to design communities with “passive survivability” in mind, or the ability to withstand the event and have water and power for a few days. This provides both the built environment and the people within some basic protection for a limited time. Strategies exist to lower the risk of fire in the current housing stock and to more carefully design and site future development where wildfires are possible. With increasing extremes expected as climate continues to change, officially recognizing this link and creating a safer built environment will only become more urgent.

  • House passes important cybersecurity legislation

    Yesterday (Monday) the House unanimously passed H.R. 3359, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act of 2017. This important legislation will streamline the current structure of the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) and re-designate it as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) to more effectively execute cybersecurity and critical infrastructure related authorities.

  • Cyber trends in 2017: The rise of the global cyberattack

    A new report, Cyber maturity in the Asia–Pacific region 2017, distils the major trends from a year’s worth of cyber events and looks at how countries in the region are measuring up to the challenges and opportunities posed by the internet and ever-more-connected IT infrastructure. Although cyber maturity and cybersecurity generally improved over the past year, the threat landscape worsened. Cybercriminals are investing in more advanced and innovative scams, and nation-states are prepared to launch massively destructive attacks causing huge collateral damage.

  • Simple tool tells whether websites suffered a data breach

    Computer scientists have built and successfully tested a tool designed to detect when websites are hacked by monitoring the activity of email accounts associated with them. The researchers were surprised to find that almost 1 percent of the websites they tested had suffered a data breach during their 18-month study period, regardless of how big the companies’ reach and audience are. “No one is above this—companies or nation states— it’s going to happen; it’s just a question of when,” said the senior researcher.

  • Controlled burning of forest land limits severity of wildfires

    Controlled burning of forestland helped limit the severity of one of California’s largest wildfires, geographers say. The researchers studying the Rim Fire, which in 2013 burned nearly 400 square miles of forest in the Sierra Nevadas, found the blaze was less severe in areas recently treated with controlled burns. “You can fight fire with fire. You can fight severe fires using these more controlled fires under conditions that are suitable,” says one expert.

  • Robot detects underground water leaks

    The United States faces a looming crisis over its deteriorating water infrastructure, and fixing it will be a monumental and expensive task. In Los Angeles alone, about two thirds of the city’s 7,000 miles of water pipes are more than 60 years old — and nearing the end of their useful lives. Water main breaks can cause flooding, leading to serious structural damage and soil erosion. Even small leaks can exacerbate water shortages and allow potentially harmful contaminants into our drinking water. But locating a leak within a vast network of underground pipes is almost impossible. Researchers are developing an autonomous robot that could quickly and inexpensively detect damage in water pipes — even those buried meters below the ground.

  • How to fight wildfires with science

    In the month of October nearly 250,000 acres, more than 8,000 homes and over 40 people fell victim to fast-moving wildfires in Northern California, the deadliest and one of the costliest outbreaks in state history. Now more wind-drive wildfires have scorched over 80,000 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, forcing thousands to evacuate and closing hundreds of schools. What is the most efficient way to protect the wild and-urban interface – the area where houses meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation? And what is the best way to evacuate? Fire conditions are constantly evolving, and basic research coupled with engineering solutions must keep up. Designing more resilient communities and infrastructure and protecting people more effectively are not onetime goals – they are constant. Currently nations are failing to meet the challenge, and impacts on communities are increasing.

  • ShakeAlert System progresses toward public use

    A decade after beginning work on an earthquake early warning system, scientists and engineers are fine-tuning a U.S. West Coast prototype that could be in limited public use in 2018. The development of ShakeAlert has shown that a dense network of seismic stations, swift transfer of seismic data to a central processing and alert station, speedy paths for distributing alert information to users, and education and training on how to use the alerts are all necessary for a robust early warning system.

  • Earthquake codes used in 2017 Gordon Bell Prize research

    A Chinese team of researchers awarded this year’s prestigious Gordon Bell prize for simulating the devastating 1976 earthquake in Tangshan, China, used an open-source code developed by researchers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Using the Sunway TaihuLight, which is currently ranked as the world’s fastest supercomputer, the team developed software that was able to efficiently process 18.9 Pflops (18.9 quadrillion calculations per second) of data and create three-dimensional visualizations of the 1976 earthquake that occurred in Tangshan, China, believed to have caused between 240,000 and 700,000 casualties.

  • Dark fiber: Sensors beneath our feet to tell us about earthquakes, water, other geophysical phenomenon

    Scientists have shown for the first time that dark fiber – the vast network of unused fiber-optic cables installed throughout the country and the world – can be used as sensors for detecting earthquakes, the presence of groundwater, changes in permafrost conditions, and a variety of other subsurface activity.

  • Power grid test bed helps national grid resilience

    Essential services like hospitals and water treatment depend on energy distribution to ensure reliable and continuous operations. As the power grid evolves, becoming more connected and responsive, those new, smart devices can introduce greater cyber vulnerabilities. To address this challenge, the power grid test bed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory has been transitioned to a more adaptive architecture.

  • Transportation, water infrastructure funding, finance in U.S. not as dire as some believe

    Transportation and water infrastructure funding and finance in the United States are not nearly as dire as some believe, but a national consensus on infrastructure priorities, accompanied by targeted spending and selected policy changes, is needed, according to a new study.

  • Improving critical sectors’ cybersecurity by bolstering sharing, acting on information

    New initiative aims to operationalize the Integrated Adaptive Cyber Defense (IACD) framework for cybersecurity automation, orchestration and information sharing. This initiative will enable companies, including those in the financial services sector, to improve the ability to quickly and broadly share information and prevent and respond to cyberattacks.


  • A turn to the worst in climate change debate

    In July, New York magazine published its most-read article ever, surpassing a photo spread of Lindsay Lohan. The topic? Doom. While defying the belief among author David Wallace-Wells’s editors that climate change would be “traffic kryptonite,” the story, titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” presented an apocalyptic vision in which rising seas flood Miami and Bangladesh, heat and drought cut grain yields in half, diseases spread, and wars rage. Unfortunately, that vision isn’t fiction, but rather Wallace-Wells’s summation of climate change’s little-discussed worst-case scenario for the year 2100.

  • Harnessing game theory for cybersecurity of large-scale nets

    Researchers have laid the groundwork for a method to improve cybersecurity for large-scale systems like the power grid and autonomous military defense networks by harnessing game theory and creating new intelligent algorithms. The project harnesses the Nash equilibrium, developed by Nobel laureate John Nash, whose life was chronicled in the film “A Beautiful Mind.” The work also applies “prospect theory,” which describes how people make decisions when there is uncertainty and risk, decisions that are often “only partly rational.”