State / Local

  • Natural gas saves water, reduces drought vulnerability

    A new study finds that in Texas, the U.S. state that annually generates the most electricity, the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation is saving water and making the state less vulnerable to drought. Even though exploration for natural gas through hydraulic fracturing requires significant water consumption in Texas, the new consumption is easily offset by the overall water efficiencies of shifting electricity generation from coal to natural gas. The researchers estimate that water saved by shifting a power plant from coal to natural gas is 25 to 50 times as great as the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing to extract the natural gas.

  • Boston Police has suspended use of license plate scanners

    TheBoston Police Department (BPD) has suspended its use of license plate scanners which enable law enforcement agencies automatically to scan vehicles for traffic or criminal violations. The announcement comes after an investigation raised privacy concerns regarding whether BPD is capable of securing the data collected from the license plate scanners. The investigation also revealed that information on wanted vehicles captured by the scanners was not followed.

  • Shot spotting system helps Stockton, Calif. Police reduce gunfire

    ShotSpotter sensors detect gunfire, then immediately transmit a signal to control center where technicians use triangulation to locate the spot of origin of the firing to within five to ten feet. The technician reports the location within thirty to forty seconds to the police to dispatch officers to the scene. Stockton, California police has been using ShotSpotter for nine months now, and the police chief says the system has helped reduce gunfire in the covered area by fifty percent.

  • Colorado faces costly, lengthy challenge fixing flood-damaged roads

    The Colorado Department of Transportation(CDOT) has met the 1 December 2013 deadline to reopen twenty-seven flood-battered highways in the state, but the department still faces major challenges in making permanent fixes to damage caused by September’s historic floods. The scope of the task is currently being evaluated as highway managers explore technological and engineering changes needed to keep about 485 miles of damaged roadway more resistant to mass flooding.

  • Feds, Calif. disagree on seismic safety of U.S. tallest dam

    At 742 feet, Oroville Dam in Oroville, California is the tallest dam in the United States. It is 45-year old, and federal inspectors say it needs a comprehensive earthquake safety assessment. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) insists that the dam, which holds 3.5 million acre-feet of water, is safe, and that such an assessment would be an “unjustified expense.” David Gutierrez, chief of California Division of Safety of Dams (DSD), says his agency will decide in January 2014 whether earthquake assessments will be made, but notes: “Oroville is not one that keeps me up at night from a seismic stability standpoint.”

  • Questions over Texas police linking chewable African plant to terrorism

    Khat is a chewable African plant containing two active chemical substances — cathinone and cathine – which have a narcotic effect. Chewing the plant is common among men in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. The chemicals are banned in the United States, although the plant itself is not. Texas law-enforcement arrested several Muslim immigrants after a lengthy investigation found they were growing and selling khat. The police portrayed those arrested as supporters of terrorism, and suggested that the profits from the sale of khat to Muslims in the Houston area was sent abroad to support terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab. Civil rights advocates say that in this case, over-eager police and prosecution have confused traditional practice with support for terrorism.

  • More states move to limit LPR use

    Law-enforcement units across the United States have been using license plate readers (LPRs) to monitor vehicles on public roads in order to locate missing individuals, investigate murderers, or track hit-and-run drivers. Privacy advocates are concerned with the wholesale storage of license plate information, and the fact that some municipalities have no limits on how long plate numbers can be stored. LPRs proponents are worried that the recent revelations about the NSA surveillance programs make it difficult for LPRs and other law-enforcement technology to get a fair hearing.

  • Wisconsin legislature considering restriction on LPRs

    State legislators in Wisconsin have proposed a law to limit the use of license plate readers, drawing criticism from local law enforcement. Republican state Representative David Craig, the sponsor of the proposed legislation, said: “The vast majority of [the LPR] images are becoming nothing more than a database of the whereabouts of average citizens. The time has come to ensure the civil rights of citizens are not being violated, while also ensuring law enforcement has the tools needed to effectively enforce our state’s laws.”

  • List of most-at-risk L.A. buildings to be released

    Scientists have compiled a list of concrete buildings in Los Angeles which could be at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake. The list identifies about 1,500 concrete structures built before 1980 which need further study to determine their risk level. Structural engineers insist that hundreds could die if any of the buildings collapsed.

  • Local enforcement of immigration law does not achieve intended goals

    A new study found that when local law enforcement agencies begin to inquire immigrants about their immigration status, some immigrants relocate within the United States but few go back relocate to their home country. Those who move to other states tend to be educated – and legally in the United States. The only exception is Arizona’s Maricopa County — which made a name for itself owing to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s controversial approach to immigration policies — where immigrants are likely to leave the country, perhaps due to unusually intense enforcement and a short distance to the border.

  • Ohio lawmakers want to limit use of drones by law enforcement

    State lawmakers in Ohio want to limit the use of drones by law enforcement agencies in the state.A proposed bill would require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before using drones. It would prohibit law enforcement from using drones to search for missing persons, locate illegal marijuana operations, or perform several actions officers currently handle with helicopter surveillance.

  • Rochester, Minn. wants to stop crime before it happens

    The Rochester Police Departmentin Rochester, Minnesota is using IBM’s Infosphere Identity Insightto predict, and combat, crime. InfoSphere Identity Insight is used to identify frequent crime offenders, and even when multiple false identifications belonging to one individual are stored on record, the associated relationships of those identities could lead to the correct individual.

  • Rising temperatures threaten Salt Lake City’s water supply

    In an example of the challenges water-strapped Western cities will face in a warming world, new research shows that every degree Fahrenheit of warming in the Salt Lake City region could mean a 1.8 to 6.5 percent drop in the annual flow of streams that provide water to the city. By midcentury, warming Western temperatures may mean that some of the creeks and streams that help slake Salt Lake City’s thirst will dry up several weeks earlier in the summer and fall.

  • Preventing a Bhopal-like catastrophe in New Jersey

    New Jersey is home to ninety facilities which produce and store large quantities of highly toxic chemicals. A superstorm or terrorist attack could doom millions of people around southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania to a Bhopal, 1984-like fate if either of these facilities and their storage tanks were affected.Typically, in the aftermath of major disasters, a blue ribbon panel is created to review preventative measures that could have been taken before the disaster. Security experts say that there is no need to wait for a post-disaster blue ribbon panel investigation to know what sensible safety measures should be implemented now.

  • U.S. first nuke in thirty years mired in costly legal wrangling

    The U.S. first nuclear construction project in thirty years is the center of a $900 million lawsuit pitting Westinghouse Electric Co. against Georgia Power. The $14 billion project is about twenty months behind schedule and $900 million over budget, and each side blames the other for the delays and cost overruns.