State / Local

  • NSF rapid response research grants to fund study of West Virginia chemical spill

    On 9 January 2014, crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), a chemical primarily used to clean coal, leaked from a storage tank near Charleston, West Virginia, and bled into a river upstream of a water-treatment plant. As a result, about 15 percent of the state’s residents were advised not to drink the water. Better to understand the properties of the chemical that contaminated the drinking water, and the plumbing and water-treatment systems surrounding the area, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grants to research teams at three universities. These grants also will provide STEM learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students on the research teams.

  • Quake-vulnerable concrete buildings in Los Angeles area identified

    Researchers have identified nonductile concrete buildings constructed before roughly 1980 in the Los Angeles area. This category of buildings is known from experience in previous earthquakes to have the potential for catastrophic collapse during strong earthquakes. Nonductile concrete buildings were a prevalent construction type in seismically active zones of the United States before the enforcement of codes for ductile concrete which were introduced in the mid-1970s. A companion study estimates that approximately 17,000 nonductile reinforced concrete buildings are located in the most highly seismic areas of California. More than seventy-five million Americans in thirty-nine states live in towns and cities at risk for earthquake devastation.

  • Florida mulling banning school collection of students’ biometric information

    Some school districts in Florida, including Polk County and Pinellas County, are using scanners to collect fingerprints and hands, eyes, and voice characteristics from students. Pinellas County school district allows students to use palm scans instead of cash to pay for meals in the cafeteria. The collection of students’ biometric information has alarmed many parents who are concerned that students’ identity or personal records may be stolen or sold to private companies. Florida state legislators are debating a proposal which would stop school districts from collecting biometric information from students.

  • Arizona lawmaker pushes measure to limit NSA operations in the state

    Arizona State Senator Kelli Ward, a tea party Republican representing the Lake Havasu area, is pushing a bill in the State Senate which would impose limits on the ability of the NSA to operate in Arizona. In December Ward became the first legislator in the nation to declare she would introduce legislation to limit NSA activities in the state, and so far legislators in twelve other states have introduced similar bills. Arizona SB 1156 would. Among other things, prohibit local and state law enforcement officials from cooperating with the NSA and would prevent state or local prosecutors from using NSA-collected information which had not been obtained with a warrant. The bill would also withhold funds from state universities and colleges supporting the NSA with research or recruitment. Legal scholars say the courts would in all likelihood strike down Ward’s measure because Arizona, in essence, is trying to regulate the federal government.

  • National Guard units help states ward off cyberattacks

    Governors across the United States are mobilizing their states’ National Guard units to combat threats from cyberattacks. The state of Washington was the first state to assign the state’s National Guard cybersecurity responsibilities. The state recognized the potential of its National Guard as a cyberforce when it realized that many of its soldiers, who are full-time employees and part-time soldiers, worked for tech employers such as Google, Boeing, Cisco, Verizon, and Microsoft.

  • New York mulling first U.S. college dedicated to homeland security studies

    Political, educational, and law enforcement leaders in New York are actively exploring the idea of creating pro the U.S. first college focused on emergency management and homeland security on the Syracuse University (SU) campus. “Believe it or not, there is no such college,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said during his fourth State of the State address two weeks ago. “I believe this is a field that is only going to grow. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse. And we want this college right here in the state of New York, training our people and training others from around the country.”

  • New 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.

  • Massachusetts takes steps to withstand climate change impacts

    Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts earlier this week unveiled a $50 million plan to help prepare Massachusetts for the challenges climate change poses to energy supplies, public health, transportation, and basic infrastructure in his state. A $40 million grant from the state’s Department of Energy Resources will help cities and towns develop protections around energy services, and $10 million will go toward shoring up critical coastal infrastructure and dam repair.

  • California bill would restrict selling, access to LPR-collected data

    A bill before the California State Senate would to prohibit law enforcement agencies and private firms in California from selling data collected by automatic license plate readers. (LPRs). The proposed Senate Bill 893 would prohibit LPR operators from selling data to non-law enforcement agencies or to non-law enforcement officials. Law enforcement access to LPR data retained for more than five years would require a court order.

  • Judge upholds New York gun restrictions -- except 7-round per magazine limit

    A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that New York’s strict new gun laws, including an expanded ban on assault weapons, were constitutional. He struck down, though, a provision prohibiting gun owners from loading more than seven rounds into a magazine. The 54-page ruling by William M. Skretny of Federal District Court in Buffalo should be considered a victory for gun control advocates who saw gun control measures on the federal level stall. Judge Skretny, writing that “whether regulating firearms is wise or warranted is not a judicial question; it is a political one,” said that expanded bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were legally sound because they served to “further the state’s important interest in public safety.”

  • Mississippi to comply with REAL ID

    Last Friday, Mississippi joined forty other states and announced it would comply with the REAL ID Act. Forty-one states and territories are fully or partially compliant with REAL ID – of which twenty states are fully compliant.

  • Maine police uses social media, sponsored apps to fight crime

    The accessibility of smartphones and the popularity of apps are making it easier for police to share and receive information from the public. Law enforcement agencies in Maine are using department-managed social media pages to engage with the public. Police department in money also use funds from recovered items and cash seized from drug busts to fund the development of apps which make it easier for the public to communicate with the police and report crimes.

  • 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.