These days, it seems it is more what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn’t do than what it does do.

The good news:NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are collaborating on a first-of-its-kind portable radar device to detect the heartbeats and breathing patterns of victims trapped in large piles of rubble resulting from a disaster.

The prototype, called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response or in DHS-speak FINDER, can locate individuals buried as deep as 30 feet in crushed materials, hidden behind 20 feet of solid concrete and from a distance of 100 feet in open spaces.

Developed in conjunction with Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, FINDER is based on remote sensing radar technology developed by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL to monitor the location of spacecraft. FINDER is bringing NASA technology that explores other planets to the effort to save lives on ours, says Mason Peck, chief technologist for NASA, and principal advisor on technology policy and programs.

The ultimate goal of FINDER is to help emergency responders efficiently rescue victims of disasters, says John Price, program manager for the First Responders Group in Homeland Security. The technology has the potential to quickly identify the presence of living victims, allowing rescue workers to more precisely deploy their limited resources.

The bad news:More than 10 years after the 9/11 hijackers considered flying a fully loaded passenger jet into a Manhattan-area nuclear reactor, U.S. commercial and research nuclear facilities remain inadequately protected against two credible terrorist threats – the theft of bomb-grade material to make a nuclear weapon and sabotage attacks intended to cause a reactor meltdown, according to a report prepared under a contract for the Pentagon by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

The report finds that none of the 104 commercial nuclear power reactors in the United States is protected against a maximum credible terrorist attack. Operators of existing nuclear facilities are still not required to defend against the number of terrorist teams or attackers associated with or similar to 9/11, nor against airplane attacks, nor even against readily available weapons such as high-power sniper rifles. Some U.S. nuclear power plants are vulnerable to terrorist attack from the sea, but they are not required to protect against such ship-borne attacks.

The “almost” catastrophic:A book released just weeks ago, “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser, details a number of U.S. accidents involving nuclear weapons of mass destruction before there was a Department of Homeland Security. During the cold war, nuclear bombs fell out of the sky, burned up in plane crashes and were lost at sea. In an incident Schlosser describes in greatest detail, and what he calls “the Damascus accident” of Sept. 18, 1980, at a launch complex outside Damascus, Arkansas, the warhead from a Titan II missile was ejected after a series of mishaps that began when a repairman dropped a socket wrench and pierced a fuel tank of the missile.

The accident led to a fuel leak, which then lead to an explosion that luckily did not include the warhead. Schlosser’s bottom line: It’s the little things that can – still to this day – kill an awful lot of us.