Public Safety

Earthquake Safety

In collaboration with LLNL and UC Davis, Berkeley Lab is developing next-generation simulation methods to predict earthquake ground motion at the regional scale. This research will improve our understanding of the distribution, amplitude and frequency of future earthquakes, and our insights into how these motions will impact public safety and critical infrastructure. Complementing this are Berkeley Lab’s investigations into solutions for distributed sensing — exploring the deployment of seismometers to electric utility meters or through existing and unused underground fiber-optic cables.

Environmental Disasters

Federal labs and research centers are routinely called upon to provide scientific expertise needed to guide responses to crises at home and abroad. Most recently, scientists from Berkeley Lab, Sandia California, and LLNL worked together in response to the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage leak, while NASA Ames collected airborne gas measures over Aliso Canyon. Berkeley Lab has also studied biological responses to ocean contamination associated with the Deepwater Horizon spill, and LLNL, Sandia California, and Berkeley Lab have rendered assistance to U.S. and Japanese government reponses to the Fukushima nuclear incident.

Emergency Response

NASA JPL developed a 3-D tracking system called POINTER that firefighters can use to navigate inside buildings, while helping incident commanders locate personnel in case of danger. POINTER uses electromagnetic fields instead of radio waves or GPS, which are unreliable indoors because they bounce off walls or do not work well underground. NASA JPL also developed FINDER, which sends a low-powered microwave signal through rubble to sense life signs such as breathing and heartbeats. FINDER can detect heartbeats through 30 feet of rubble or 20 feet of concrete, and was credited with rescuing survivors in the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

Air Travel

NASA Ames conducts commercial air travel studies, including air traffic control patterns, aircraft safety, automation, and human factors. A two-story, full-scale, 360-degree air traffic control tower at Moffett Field called FutureFlight Central can virtually display the airfield view from real airports, and is able to simulate and analyze operational scenarios that help make air travel safer and more reliable.

Forensic Science

The LLNL Forensic Science Center, which focuses on chemical, nuclear, and biological counterterrorism, developed a technique that uses protein signatures instead of DNA to identify individuals based on hair samples. Once optimized, identification may be possible using as small a sample as a single hair — providing an additional, science-based, statistically validated way to help solve crimes.

Nuclear Security

The DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is responsible for securing the nation’s aging stockpile of nuclear weapons and safely dismantling retired weapons in support of nonproliferation agreements. Sandia California and LLNL are both home to NNSA research facilities, focusing on engineering, design, and testing of components related to weapons safety and assessment.


Research Benefits by Topic Area:

Public SafetyHuman HealthAgriculture, Water, and Natural Resources | Climate Change | Energy Efficiency and Renewables | Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship | Cybersecurity  | STEM Education | Inspiration for All

Alongside academic powerhouses such as the University of California campuses, Stanford, and Caltech, Californians can take pride in our unrivaled collection of federal laboratories and research centers. CCST helps facilitate links across the capabilities and talents of these labs and centers through its Federal Laboratory Affiliates program — convening their expertise to deliver impartial science advice in response to the Governor, the Legislature, and other state entities. Learn more about the federal labs and science centers benefiting California at

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Updated: 2018.02.13