safety first
July 17, 2019

What could go wrong here?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued recommendations Tuesday that propose cutting just how many nuclear power plant inspections it conducts every year. The suggestion is supposed to be a cost-saving measure, but as commission members and lawmakers have said, it could obviously backfire in a major way, The Associated Press reports.

There are more than 90 nuclear power plants in the U.S., and they're inspected by the commission once a year. Yet these recommendations suggest cutting the "time and scope" of inspections, and also reducing other types of inspections "from every two years to every three years," AP says. The suggestion comes both as President Trump's administration suggests regulatory cuts to save money, and as the nuclear power industry pushes the NRC to cut down on inspections.

Earlier this week, House Democrats in the Energy and Commerce Committee voiced their concerns about possible cuts in a letter to NRC Chair Kristine Svinicki, namely calling out the proposed replacement of inspector assessments with "industry self-assessments." The recommendations "may eventually lead to a disaster that could be detrimental to the future of the domestic nuclear industry," the letter continued. The NRC ended up not fully endorsing that suggestion in its Tuesday recommendations. Still, commission member Jeff Baran told AP that the recommendations would "take us in the wrong direction."

The suggestions will now face a vote from the entire commission, a majority of whom have been appointed or reappointed by Trump. While they make their decisions, may we suggest watching HBO's Chernobyl? Kathryn Krawczyk

April 14, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sunday said that after President Trump tweeted an inflammatory video against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Friday, she ordered Capitol Police to conduct "a security assessment to safeguard" Omar, her family, and staff.

In the edited video, Omar is superimposed over scenes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; Trump added the caption, "We will never forget." In a speech last month, Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, said the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was founded "because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties." Omar misspoke, as CAIR was founded in 1994, and conservatives jumped on the remarks, accusing Omar of trivializing the attacks.

One of Omar's aides told Politico that since Trump's tweet, "there has been an increase in threats" against Omar, and they have all been reported to Capitol Police and the FBI. Catherine Garcia

August 8, 2018

We've all learned that only you can prevent forest fires. Now, it's time to learn that only you can prevent family fire.

The nonprofit Ad Council, responsible for America's biggest public service announcements, wants to stop unintentional shooting deaths caused by unsecured guns in family homes. So it's teaming with a gun control group to craft a campaign that's hopefully as catchy as "friends don't let friends drive drunk," The New York Times reports.

The Ad Council has spent 80 years creating Smokey Bear and other memorable public service announcements, relying on volunteers from advertising agencies and donated air time to spread its messages. This new campaign coins the term "family fire" to describe accidental injuries and deaths from improperly stored guns, says the Times. It's an epidemic that kills eight children every day, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

With ad agency Droga5, the Ad Council and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence created a website dramatically reenacting how a child might find a gun in their home. There are also traditional poster and TV ads, all sharing tips for securing firearms and keeping families safer.

Watch the Ad Council's moving first TV ad for the new campaign below. Kathryn Krawczyk

July 28, 2017

Honolulu on Thursday became the first major city in the United States to make it illegal for people to look at their phones and other electronic devices while walking across the street.

The bill will take effect on Oct. 25, and also bans people from peering down at digital cameras, pagers, and laptops. The first time a person is cited, they'll be fined up to $35, and it goes up from there to $75 for a second offense in the same year. "Sometimes I wish there were laws that we didn't have to pass — that perhaps common sense would prevail," Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, "but sometimes we lack common sense."

The bill was introduced by a council member who told BuzzFeed News high schoolers in his district were concerned about their peers paying more attention to their phones than their whereabouts while walking along busy streets. Catherine Garcia

July 19, 2017

With a quick finger scan, Apple wants its users to be able to alert emergency services.

In a patent filed Tuesday with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Apple describes a new feature which would allow users to call police with the scan of a fingerprint. The new feature would bypass login screens and passwords to send authorities the phone's location. It would also allow for live audio or video to be streamed from the phone to the dispatcher and for personal information stored on the device, like social security numbers or home addresses, to be deleted.

The phone would not display any sign of the user's 911 call, according to the patent. Instead of dialing the individual numbers, a user would pre-designate a fingerprint or a set of fingerprint sequences to trigger emergency services, or even apply a pre-set amount of pressure to the phone screen to call authorities.

Most smartphones, including iPhones, already offer their users a way to dial 911 without unlocking their device. However, Apple pointed out in its patent that someone in a hostile situation may not be able to physically dial in the presence of an attacker.

The company has not announced whether the feature will be available on the next iPhone model or in the next software update. Elianna Spitzer

June 15, 2016

Wildlife experts say that while it's rare for an unprovoked alligator to attack, there are several safety tips people need to keep in mind when it comes to being around gators: Don't approach them, don't feed them, and don't stop screaming if you are bit.

On Tuesday night, an alligator came out of a lagoon at Disney World's Grand Floridian Resort and attacked and dragged away a 2-year-old boy; his body was found in the water on Wednesday. Florida is home to millions of alligators, but attacks are rare because they are naturally afraid of humans, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says. On average, there are seven bites a year in Florida that require medical attention, from both provoked and unprovoked attacks.

A majority of unprovoked attacks take place in or near brackish or fresh water, when a gator is hungry or feels threatened, the commission said. If you don't know if the water is safe for swimming, stay out, and be aware of your surroundings when on the shoreline — most alligators go after small prey within a few feet of shoreline. Experts say to keep an eye on children along the shoreline and avoid having dogs there, as dogs resemble an alligator's natural prey and could attract hungry gators. Regardless of an alligator's size, experts say don't ever approach one, and restrict swimming around dusk and dawn, their hunting times. Never hand-feed an alligator, since it makes them lose their fear of humans, and if you are bit, scream and move your limbs, hitting and kicking the alligator in the face and around the eyes. If they release their powerful jaw, continue to make noise until the gator leaves, then immediately get medical attention. You can find more safety tips at People. Catherine Garcia

March 17, 2016

At 5 a.m. on Thursday, the Washington Metro regional commuter rail system resumed service after a hastily called 24-hour shutdown. New Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld had ordered the service pause so inspectors could look over 600 subway power cables, after a pre-commute fire broke out in one tunnel on Monday. The inspection crew found and repaired cables in three heavily trafficked areas where the damage was so serious that, if Metro had known about it, the lines would have been immediately shut down, Wiedenfeld said, adding, "This is what a safety culture looks like."

Not all local officials agreed with Wiedefeld's decision to shut down all service for a day, but there is widespread agreement that Metro has to focus on safety and repairs, and also get a secure stream of revenue. Smoke from a January 2015 fire in the Metro killed one person and injured others. Peter Weber

December 17, 2015

In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting earlier this month, visitors to Disneyland, Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Orlando will see heightened security measures.

USA Today reports that more local law enforcement officers will be on hand at Disneyland and Disney World and security will pick visitors at random to go through metal detectors. Dogs able to detect explosives will be on patrol in key areas. Disney has also stopped selling toy guns on Disneyland and Disney World properties, saying they could distract or confuse security personnel and employees, and guests ages 14 and older will not be allowed to wear costumes into the theme parks.

SeaWorld Orlando is instituting bag checks and installing metal detectors, a spokesperson said, and Universal Orlando is "testing metal detection because we want our guests to feel safe when they come to our theme parks," spokesman Tom Schroeder said. "We are always looking at best practices for security and safety in today's world. For us, this is a natural progression, in that we've long used metal detection for some of our special events." Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads