Clearer Signals Through the Smoke

With cables and portable repeaters, the New York City Fire Department is trying to make radios more reliable in unthinkable situations

5 min read

9 February 2005--Firefighters know what to look for inside a burning building. But until very recently, firefighters in New York City's tall buildings had too little assurance that they'd be able to tell each other what they were seeing. The New York City Fire Department's radio system often failed to get messages through collapsed walls or exposed steel. With two innovations, the department is working to change that.

One development is the brainchild of a retired department captain, who designed portable repeaters, high-powered radios that a fire chief can carry to a burning high-rise. A repeater works basically like an amplifier, picking up short-range radio traffic and carrying it over greater distances. A chief can carry the 9-kilogram repeater, called the Command Post Radio, to a burning high-rise and install it in the lobby or on the floor below a blaze. A separate effort involves putting new wiring inside tall buildings and subway tunnels to carry these conversations along so-called leaky cables when concrete and steel block the airwaves. Such a cable, 300 meters long, was installed last summer in the landmark Chrysler Building's elevator shaft.

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How Police Exploited the Capitol Riot’s Digital Records

Forensic technology is powerful, but is it worth the privacy trade-offs?

11 min read
 Illustration of the silhouette of a person with upraised arm holding a cellphone in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Superimposed on the head is a green matrix, which represents data points used for facial recognition
Gabriel Zimmer

The group of well-dressed young men who gathered on the outskirts of Baltimore on the night of 5 January 2021 hardly looked like extremists. But the next day, prosecutors allege, they would all breach the United States Capitol during the deadly insurrection. Several would loot and destroy media equipment, and one would assault a policeman.

No strangers to protest, the men, members of the America First movement, diligently donned masks to obscure their faces. None boasted of their exploits on social media, and none of their friends or family would come forward to denounce them. But on 5 January, they made one piping hot, family-size mistake: They shared a pizza.

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