Risk analysis

  • HurricanesReal-time forecast of Hurricane Sandy accurately predicted storm’s track, intensity

    A real-time hurricane analysis and prediction system that effectively incorporates airborne Doppler radar information may accurately track the path, intensity, and wind force in a hurricane. This system also can identify the sources of forecast uncertainty.

  • Chemical spillsW.Va. spill leads lawmakers, industry to look at reforming toxic substances law

    The government was slow to respond to the 9 January 2014 massive chemical spill in West Virginia because the law governing such response, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), limits regulatory agencies’ authority to investigate such spills.Under TSCA, the EPA must first prove that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk to health or the environment before it can require the needed testing that would show a potential risk. One observer called this a Catch-22, telling a congressional panel that “This is like requiring a doctor to prove that a patient has cancer before being able to order a biopsy.”

  • Fire hazardImproving common furniture fire test

    In the United States, fires in which upholstered furniture is the first item ignited account for about 6,700 home fires annually and result in 480 civilian deaths, or almost 20 percent of home fire deaths between 2006 and 2010. A new study finds that the bench-scale test widely used to evaluate whether a burning cigarette will ignite upholstered furniture may underestimate the tendency of component materials to smolder when these materials are used in sofas and chairs supported by springs or cloth.

  • EarthquakesNew L.A. fault map threatens Hollywood development projects

    The state of California recently released new geological maps which reveal the presence of an active earthquake fault along the path of major developments in Hollywood. The maps established a zone of 500 feet on both sides of the fault, and state law will require new developments within the zone to conduct underground seismic testing to determine whether the fault runs beneath planned development sites. Building on top of faults is prohibited. Three prominent Hollywood developments — the Millennium Hollywood skyscraper project, the Blvd6200 development, and an apartment project on Yucca Street — are within the 500-foot fault zone.

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  • Nuclear sheltersSurviving a nuclear explosion in your city

    During the cold war, scientists modeled every imaginable consequence of a nuclear explosion. Michael Dillon, a Lawrence Livermore Lab mathematician, found a gap in the sheltering strategies for people far enough from ground zero to survive the initial blast but close enough to face deadly radioactive fallout. Dillon’s model’s addresses the most vulnerable people, those who found shelter from the blast in lightweight buildings, or buildings lacking a basement (these buildings are more easily penetrated by deadly radioactive dust). His recommendations:  if adequate shelter is fifteen minutes away, people should remain in their initial, poor-quality shelter no longer than thirty minutes after detonation. If the better shelter is only five minutes away, however, individuals should move there immediately, leaving the closer but unsafe buildings altogether.

  • Risk assessmentCanadian city developed mathematical formula to evaluate risk

    The City of Hamilton, Ontario has ranked Terrorism fourth on its list of top ten emergency risks, below Hazardous Materials and Explosions, Energy Supply Emergencies, and Epidemics/Pandemics.The city’s ranking of top 10 emergencies for which it plans is not a mere judgment call: The city’s emergency management office uses a mathematical equation to rate the risks to the city and its population.

  • InfrastructureThousands of U.S. bridges in “fracture critical” condition

    There are currently 66,749 structurally deficient bridges and 84,748 functionally obsolete bridges in the United States – about a quarter of the nation’s 607,000 bridges. With declining federal funds for bridge repair, the burden of maintenance has shifted to states, which spent $28.5 billion last year on bridge work – up from $12.3 billion in 1998.

  • Chemical plantsDHS chemical plant security program hobbled by problems, poor oversight

    A DHS program responsible for the security of chemical facilities, such as the West Fertilizer Company plant in Texas, has been ineffective owing to a number of issues, leading federal investigators to wonder “whether it can achieve its mission, given the challenges the program continues to face.”

  • DisastersFinding the right balance for natural hazard mitigation

    Uncertainty issues are paramount in the assessment of risks posed by natural hazards and in developing strategies to alleviate their consequences.Researchers describe a model that estimates the balance between costs and benefits of mitigation — efforts to reduce losses by taking action now to reduce consequences later — following natural disasters, as well as rebuilding defenses in their aftermath.

  • In the trenchesEnhancing Army capabilities as new threats emerge

    Some twenty-eight nations have some type of weapons of mass destruction capability, with some of them having nuclear weapons or nuclear-weapons capability. The nuclear materials in many of these countries are kept in hundreds of sites without global safeguards in place for securing them. A senior American military official described these loose nukes as the “single biggest existential threat to Western survival.” Yet, in a recent exercise, the U.S. response time for deploying 90,000 troops to a crisis area – an area which included loose nukes, other WMDs, or both — took fifty-five days. U.S. military leaders say this is just not good enough.

  • Disaster insuranceInsurance industry paying increasing attention to climate change-related risks

    The insurance industry, the world’s largest business with $4.6 trillion in revenues, is making larger efforts to manage climate change-related risks, according to a new study; weather- and climate-related insurance losses today average $50 billion a year; these losses have more than doubled each decade since the 1980s, adjusted for inflation

  • Aviation securityThe costs, benefits, and efficiency of aviation security measures

    The threat of terrorist attack on American aviation has made the system the focus of intense security efforts, but it is difficult to determine if the benefits outweigh their cost; efficient security policy — a focus on getting the most security for the least cost — should be the priority in an era of fiscal austerity, says a new RAND report

  • Chemical plant securityUnder industry pressure, DHS drops chemical plant employee screening proposal

    Security experts agree that short of a nuclear attack on a U.S. city, the most casualty-heavy disaster would occur as a result of an accident in, or a terrorist attack on, a chemical plant which would release a cloud of toxic fumes; there are about 15,000 plants in the United States which produce, process, use, or store volatile and toxic chemicals; more than 300 of the these plants are so close to large population centers, that a chemical release in any one of them would cause more than 50,000 casualties; DHS wanted to have employees in these plants screened for potential ties terrorism, but the chemical industry objected, saying this would be too costly; last Thursday DHS pulled the proposal

  • Infrastructure protectionNew, affordable instant warnings of bridge collapse

    The Federal Bureau of Transportation lists nearly 70,000 U.S. bridges as “structurally deficient,” requiring extra surveillance; in addition, more than 77,000 others are categorized as “obsolete” — exceeding their intended lifespan and carrying loads greater than they were designed to handle; researchers developed a new technology for monitoring these 150,000 aging U.S. highway bridges

  • DisastersCrowd dynamics explains disaster at cultural, sports events

    Physicists investigating a recent crowd disaster in Germany found that one of the key causes was that at some point the crowd dynamics turned turbulent, akin to behavior found in unstable fluid flows