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October 23, 2003

  In This Issue:
bullet NIST Director Urges Better Security for Critical Industrial Systems
bullet Symposium to Address Voting Standards Issues
bullet Developing Elevators that Function During Fires
bullet Gauging the Economic Impact of Government R&D Programs
bullet Only 15 Minutes of Life, No Fame, for Lone Neutrons
bullet Two Extension Centers Help Manufacturer Get ‘Lean’
bullet Quick Links

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High Tension Power Lines
© PhotoDisc  

NIST Director Urges Better Security for Critical
Industrial Systems

In remarks on Oct. 20 to a workshop on critical infrastructure protection,* the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Arden L. Bement Jr., called on industry to take immediate action to ensure the security of industrial control systems such as those used to manage the power grid. While the August blackout—the worst such event in the nation’s history—was probably not the result of a deliberate act, Bement said, it did highlight the fragility of a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure.

Bement’s remarks were made at a National Science Foundation workshop in Minneapolis. He noted that there was a vital role for measurements and standards in improving the security of systems used in industry to monitor and control major, widely dispersed operations such as power generation and distribution systems, water and gas utilities, and large chemical plants and refineries.

Systems for handling Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or SCADA, are designed for performance and reliability. Response time is often a critical factor, which complicates the task of adding cryptographic modules and other security features. Bement cited on-going NIST work with a broad range of industry-led standards-development organizations to develop testbeds and guidelines for implementing SCADA security.

While much work on standards remains to be done, Bement said, there were many actions that could be taken immediately including creating basic security policies, closing system “back doors,” and making better use of existing standards. Bement’s prepared remarks are available at

Media Contact:
Michael Baum
,  (301) 975-2763

*Workshop on Critical Infrastructure Protection for SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and IT, Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 20-21, 2003.




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Symposium to Address Voting Standards Issues

As part of its responsibilities under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will hold a symposium on building trust and confidence in voting systems at the agency’s Gaithersburg, Md., headquarters on Dec. 10-11, 2003. Enacted by Congress in October 2002, the legislation gave NIST a key role in helping realize nationwide improvement in voting systems by January 2006.

The two-day symposium will bring together a wide range of election technology experts, including federal, state and local election officials; university researchers; independent testing laboratories; election law specialists; hardware and software vendors; and others.

World-renowned experts in the voting standards arena are scheduled to take part in the meeting. Among the confirmed panelists are: Jim Adler, founder, president and CEO of VoteHere, a manufacturer of electronic voting systems; David Dill of Stanford University, the initiator of the Web site; Rebecca Mercuri, electronic voting systems expert at Bryn Mawr College; and Avi Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

For more information, including an online registration form, go to

Media Contact:
Philip Bulman, (301) 975-5661



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Developing Elevators that Function During Fires

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. fire experts are beginning to advocate the use of elevators in high-rise buildings throughout a fire, both to carry firefighters to the site of the blaze and as a secondary method (after stairwells) for evacuating building occupants. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has joined others to study ways to build “protected” elevators.

As reported at a recent conference in Malaysia,* NIST is working with the elevator industry to develop and test redundant, more reliable elevator-dedicated emergency power systems and waterproof elevator components. NIST is investigating software and sensing systems that can adapt to changing smoke and heat conditions, maintain safe and reliable operation, and not shut down during fire emergencies. Such changes could allow elevators to be operated with remote control from the ground floor during fires, thus freeing urgently needed firefighters from elevator operation duties.

NIST also will use its expertise in virtual reality simulation to test scenarios for coordinating firefighting activities, elevator egress and stairway evacuation. By incorporating elevators into its graphic computer models, NIST will help fire safety experts identify the most effective operational procedures for specific fire conditions. NIST fire researchers hope to collaborate on emergency elevator operations standards with colleagues from around the world. Global standardization should reduce confusion during an emergency, enabling people to take evacuation actions with confidence.

Media Contact:
John Blair, (301) 975-4261

* Richard W. Bukowski, “Protected Elevators for Egress and Access During Fires in Tall Buildings” Proceedings, CIB-CTBUH International Conference on Tall Buildings, Oct. 20-23, 2003.



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Gauging the Economic Impact of Government R&D Programs

Over the last 10 years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has conducted more than 40 economic studies to estimate the costs and benefits of both completed and potential research efforts. As a result, the agency has collected an impressive amount of information on best practices for assessing the value of government-funded research and development programs.

In a new report,* NIST senior economist Gregory Tassey strives to leverage that experience by describing the major steps required for designing, implementing, analyzing and disseminating economic studies of government R&D programs. While he says there probably will never be a single “manual” for such studies, he outlines methods common to all economic assessments and offers advice for selecting analysis and data collection methods.

The report notes that timing of a study and selection of the right “metrics” for program outcomes are critical to the design of economic assessments. A study that estimates the benefits of government technology infrastructure should be conducted about three to 10 years after significant marketplace impact. This ensures that enough time has passed for the new technology to be disseminated widely, without losing valuable sources of impact data. Metrics vary widely but typically are similar to those used in corporate finance and include impacts on productivity, quality and reliability that affect R&D, production and commercialization of a technology.

Ultimately, writes Tassey, economic assessments should be “an ongoing function” that R&D agencies use as a reality check on whether programs targeted at specific technologies or industries actually produce the expected economic benefits and conform to the agency’s mission.

The full text of the report is available at:

Media Contact:
Michael E. Newman,  (301) 975-3025

*Gregory Tassey, Methods for Assessing the Economic Impact of Government R&D, (Planning Report 03-1).



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Only 15 Minutes of Life, No Fame, for Lone Neutrons

Proton trap used by the NIST-led research team to determine the lifetime of the neutron.
Proton trap used by the NIST-led research team to determine the lifetime of the neutron.

Once freed from its home inside the nucleus of an atom, a neutron lives, on average, 886.8 seconds (about 14.8 minutes), plus or minus 3.4 seconds, according to recent measurements performed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

This result, published in the Oct. 10 issue of Physical Review Letters, is the most precise ever achieved using beams of neutrons and is the culmination of almost 10 years of work. The new neutron lifetime value is consistent with physicists’ current theories about the particles and forces of nature. It will help scientists better understand the creation of matter immediately after the birth of the universe, an important factor in determining what the universe is made of today.

Scientists have been measuring the lifetime of the neutron since the early 1950s. While slightly less precise than a measurement made in 2000 by a different research group using a different method, the new in-beam measurement provides a strong, independent check on the neutron lifetime and reduces the overall uncertainty in the recommended value.

As neutrons die, they disintegrate into other particles, including protons. The NIST-led group simultaneously counted both the number of neutrons and the number of protons formed as the neutrons fell apart. A beam of slow moving neutrons was passed through a vacuum system. As the neutrons decayed, protons—which have a positive charge—formed and were captured in a powerful electromagnetic trap. Periodically, the trap was opened and the protons were counted as they crashed into a semiconductor detector.

The research team included participants from NIST, Tulane University, Indiana University, University of Tennessee/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements) in Belgium. The research was funded by NIST, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Media Contact:
Laura Ost, (301) 975-4034



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Two Extension Centers Help Manufacturer Get ‘Lean’

Materials such as utility flooring and wall coverings used by the airline and rail industries not only must be attractive, durable, and easy to care for, they also must adhere to strict safety requirements. For nearly 40 years, Schneller Inc., with facilities in Kent, Ohio, and Pinellas Park, Fla., has been manufacturing and selling these materials to aircraft, rail, marine, and architectural industries around the world. But, following the upheaval of the transportation sector after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Schneller managers realized they would have to make changes if the company was to remain profitable and competitive.

NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers in Ohio and Florida helped the two facilities implement “lean” principles, a concept that eliminates activities that add no real value to the product or service, and focuses on continuous improvement initiatives. As a result, Schneller has reduced costs, inventory and lead times. In addition, they have improved on-time delivery and overall customer response time. Richard Organ, president and CEO of Schneller, said, “Our lean initiatives have not only resulted in an overall transformation of the company, they have enabled us to meet the growing needs of our customers.”

For more information on MEP go to or call (800) MEP-4MFG (637-4634).

For more information on the work with Schneller, contact Maria Alfano, (321) 939-4000 (Florida MEP), or Cindy Nelson, (216) 432-5386 (Ohio MEP).

Media Contact:
Jan Kosko, (301) 975-2767


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Quick Links

New Computer Security Guidelines—National Institute of Standards and Technology has released five new special publications designed to help organizations design, purchase, test, and implement effective information security systems. The five reports are: Guide to Information Technology Services (SP 800-35), Guide to Selecting Information Security Products (SP 800-36), Guideline on Network Security Testing (SP 800-42), Building an Information Technology Security Awareness and Training Program (SP 800-50), and Security Considerations in the Information System Development Life Cycle (SP 800-64). Full text of each report is available at:

Information Standards for Biomedical Research—On Nov. 4-5, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will sponsor a workshop in Bethesda, Md., to define the current and emerging state of information science (IS) standards related to bioscience and biomedical research, and to identify barriers and gaps to IS standards development and implementation. See:

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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created: 10/23/03