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March 10, 2005

  In This Issue:
bullet NIST Urges Improvements in Nightclub Fire Safety
bullet New ID Standard Announced for Federal Agencies
bullet New Architecture Proposed for Quantum Computing
bullet New Web Site 'Drills Down' into Government Standards
bullet Security Controls Issued for Federal Information Systems
  Quick Links:
bullet The Future of the Semiconductor Industry
bullet April Forum To Revisit National Standards Strategy
bullet Workshop on Synchronization in Telecommunications

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NIST Urges Improvements in Nightclub Fire Safety

Computer model of fire at The Station nightclub showing the temperature variation after 90 seconds at 1.5 meters (5 feet) above the floor.

Computer model of the fire at The Station nightclub showing the temperature variation after 90 seconds at 1.5 meters (5 feet) above the floor.

Click here for a high-resolution version of this image.

Organizations that develop building and fire safety codes, standards and practices—and the state and local agencies that adopt them—can improve the fire safety of nightclubs by making specific changes in those codes, according to a draft report released March 3 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The report was released at a news conference in Providence, R.I., the result of the agency's investigation of the Feb. 20, 2003, fire that killed 100 people at The Station nightclub in W. Warwick, R.I.

Recommendations for changes in nightclubs include requiring sprinklers, tighter restrictions on the use of flammable materials in finish products, and improved means of egress in emergencies. Other recommendations address emergency preparedness and response practices as well as a call for more research to better understand the way people behave in emergency situations such as fires.

The NIST report identifies three factors that directly contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, the resulting building failure and the large loss of life at The Station nightclub. These are: (1) the hazardous mix of building contents; (2) an inadequate capability to suppress the fire early; and (3) the inability of exits to handle the egress of all of the occupants in the short time available with such a fast-growing fire.

Details about the investigators' findings, the full text of their report and presentation at the news conference, and videos of fire tests conducted by NIST fire experts and of computer models simulating the spread of the fire and temperatures in the nightclub are available at

Video taken inside the nightclub by WPRI-TV (Providence, R.I.) and reporting by the Providence Journal assisted the NIST investigation team.

NIST welcomes comments on the report, available at, which are received by April 4, 2005. Comments may be sent via surface mail to The Station Investigation, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8660, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-8660; via fax to (301) 975-4052; or via e-mail to

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



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New ID Standard Announced for Federal Agencies

Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez recently approved a new standard for a smart-card-based form of identification for all federal government departments and agencies to issue to their employees and contractors requiring access to federal facilities and systems. On Aug. 27, 2004, President Bush issued a Homeland Security Presidential Directive calling for a mandatory, government-wide personal identification standard.

Computer security specialists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) worked closely with other federal agencies as well as private industry to develop Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 201, Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors. The standard specifies the technical and operational requirements for the PIV system and card. About the size of a credit card, the PIV card will contain integrated circuit chips for storing electronic information, a personal identification number and biometric data—a printed photograph and two electronically stored fingerprints. The standard includes requirements to protect the privacy of PIV cardholders. OMB will provide privacy and implementation guidelines to federal agencies.

The first part of the standard, which federal agencies must meet by October 2005, describes the minimum requirements needed to meet the control and security objectives of the Presidential directive, including the process to prove an individual’s identity. The second section explains the many components and processes that will support a smart-card-based platform, including the PIV card and devices that read the card's contents. It also describes a means to collect, store and maintain information and documentation needed to authenticate and assure an individual’s identity. The Office of Management and Budget will determine the timeline for agencies to comply with the second part of the standard.

For more information, see

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

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New Architecture Proposed for Quantum Computing

NIST architecture for quantum computing relies on several levels of error checking to ensure the accuracy of quantum bits (qubits).

The new NIST architecture for quantum computing relies on several levels of error checking to ensure the accuracy of quantum bits (qubits). The purple spheres represent qubits that are either used in error detection or in actual computations. The yellow spheres are qubits that are measured to detect or correct errors but are not used in final computations.

Click here for a high-resolution version of this image.

A full-scale quantum computer could produce reliable results even if its components performed no better than today’s best first-generation prototypes, according to a paper by a scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the March 3 issue of the journal Nature*.

In theory, such a quantum computer could be used to break commonly used encryption codes, to improve optimization of complex systems such as airline schedules, and to simulate other complex quantum systems.

A key issue for the reliability of future quantum computers—which would rely on the unusual properties of nature’s smallest particles to store and process data—is the fragility of quantum states. Today’s computers use millions of transistors that are switched on or off to reliably represent values of 1 or 0. Quantum computers would use atoms, for example, as quantum bits (qubits), whose magnetic and other properties would be manipulated to represent 1 or 0 or even both at the same time. These states are so delicate that qubit values would be unusually susceptible to errors caused by the slightest electronic "noise."

To get around this problem, NIST scientist Emanuel Knill suggests using a pyramid-style hierarchy of qubits made of smaller and simpler building blocks than envisioned previously, with teleportation of data at key intervals to continuously double-check the accuracy of qubit values. Teleportation was demonstrated last year by NIST physicists, who transferred key properties of one atom to another atom without using a physical link.

"There has been a tremendous gap between theory and experiment in quantum computing,” Knill says. "It is as if we were designing today's supercomputers in the era of vacuum tube computing, before the invention of transistors. This work reduces the gap, showing that building quantum computers may be easier than we thought. However, it will still take a lot of work to build a useful quantum computer."

For further information, see

Media Contact:
Laura Ost,, (301) 975-4261

*Knill, E. 2005. "Quantum computing with realistically noisy devices." Nature. March 3.



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New Web Site 'Drills Down' into Government Standards

Protracted and, sometimes, fruitless searches for government-applied technical standards may soon be a thing of the past. A new Web site, Standards.Gov, provides businesses, other organizations and interested citizens with a direct portal to sources of information on the thousands of specifications that government agencies reference in regulations or use to guide their purchasing decisions.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) launched the new site to further the government’s progress in using private-sector standards in lieu of agency-unique specifications, whenever practical. Under the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA), NIST leads and coordinates federal, state and local government efforts to increase use of voluntary consensus standards over in-house, proprietary standards.

From basic tutorials to a searchable database of standards referenced in federal regulations, the Web site offers a broad perspective on the government’s complex standards landscape. Using Standards.Gov, visitors can quickly home in on their particular interests, be it standards incorporated into drinking water requirements, specifications for military equipment, guidelines for respiratory protection in the workplace or other topics.

Links to standards-related Web sites maintained by 12 federal departments and independent agencies are now featured on the site. This number is likely to grow as other governmental units follow suit and post standards information pertinent to their missions and operations, says NIST’s Kevin McIntyre, who led development of Standards.Gov.

In all, nearly 30 departments and agencies are members of the NIST-led Interagency Committee on Standards Policy (ICSP), responsible for implementing NTTAA requirements. Each year, these federal units report on their standards-related activities. NIST compiles and summarizes these submissions in annual reports that are available on Standards.Gov.

McIntyre says the new Web site continues to be a work in progress. He and his team welcome suggestions for improvements and new features to add. Recommendations and other comments can be submitted via the “contact us” page on the site.

To visit Standards.Gov, go to

Media Contact:
Mark Bello,, (301) 975-3776



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Security Controls Recommended for Federal Information Systems

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently released its final version of recommended security controls for federal information systems. The new guideline will be the basis for a proposal to be made later this year by NIST for a Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) that will become mandatory for federal agencies in December 2005.

This fourth and final version of Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems (NIST Special Publication 800-53) includes changes based on more than 1,200 comments to earlier drafts. Expected to have a wide audience beyond the federal government, the publication recommends management, operational and technical controls needed to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all federal information systems that are not national security systems. The controls cover 17 key security focus areas, including risk assessment, contingency planning, incident response, access control, and identification and authentication. The security guidelines also provide information on selecting the appropriate controls needed to achieve security for low-, moderate and high-impact information systems.

NIST SP 800-53 is one of a series of key NIST standards and guidelines produced by NIST to help federal agencies improve their security and comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and Office of Management and Budget security policies. All of NIST’s security standards and guidelines are available at

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


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Quick Links

The Future of the Semiconductor Industry

An upcoming conference will focus on how to keep the $87 billion U.S. semiconductor industry competitive in the 21st century. Semiconductors already underpin the electronics industry and help drive the global economy. They will become even more influential as integrated circuits become the building blocks for emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, that will expand the economy in the future. The need for new kinds of collaborations and partnerships, and the problem of growing R&D costs, are among the issues to be discussed at the 2005 International Conference on Characterization and Metrology for ULSI Technology, to be held March 14-18 at the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson, Texas.

Speakers will include Michael Polcari, president and CEO of International SEMATECH; Hans Stork, chief technology officer of Texas Instruments; and Bernard Meyerson, IBM Fellow and chief technologist and vice president of STG. The conference, the fifth in a series that began in 1995, will focus on summarizing major issues, giving critical reviews of important measurement techniques needed by the industry, and highlighting new metrologies needed as the industry moves to silicon nanotechnologies and beyond.

NIST is one of nine sponsors of the conference. Reporters interested in attending should contact David Seiler at Details are available at

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April Forum To Revisit National Standards Strategy

A public forum for comment on the initial draft of a revised National Standards Strategy (NSS) (retitled the U.S. Standards Strategy), will be held on April 15, 2005, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Department of Commerce in Washington, DC. First adopted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 2000, the NSS is a strategic framework to guide private and public sector participation in standards-related activities affecting trade, market-access, consumer welfare, and other priority interests and issues.

During the past year, more than 100 members of the standards and conformity assessment community have reviewed the strategy. They have proposed revisions intended to respond to new issues and anticipated trends, domestic and international. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has contributed to the ANSI-led review process and will host the April 15 forum in conjunction with ANSI. To learn more and to register for the meeting, go to

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Workshop on Synchronization in Telecommunications

They say timing is everything. This is particularly true in telecommunications where synchronization of networks and delivery of data packets are critical.

The annual Workshop on Synchronization in Telecommunications Systems, sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), will take place May 10-12, 2005, in Broomfield, Colo. Workshop organizers are accepting speaker applications through Friday, March 18 on a broad range of topics from synchronization fundamentals to next-generation networks for both wired and wireless systems.

The three-day workshop will include tutorials, lectures and panel discussions and will provide educational and networking opportunities for network operators, strategists, design engineers, system architects and synchronization planners from the wireline, wireless, enterprise and utilities sectors. For more information on speaker applications or event registration and logistics, visit

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Editor: Gail Porter

Date created:3/4/05
Date updated:3/7/05