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US power grid still fragile in the face of EMP threat: GAO

Solar storms and sky-high nukes could black out America

America is still under dire threat of an electromagnetic pulse sending it back to the dark ages, according to Chris Currie of the US Government Accountability Office.

In testimony given to the House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee's subcommittee on oversight and management efficiency, Currie reckons there's not enough effort going into protecting the electricity grid from a catastrophic attack.

To bring down cities currently needs an air-burst nuke-scale attack, something that would probably draw a catastrophic response against the perpetrator.

However, more realistically, Currie also notes that a strong enough solar event could do serious damage to both the electricity grid and to communications infrastructure.

The thrust of Currie's testimony is that with no “single federal program or entity” in charge of EMP risks, the US is still unprepared for either event.

While the Department of a Homeland Security has been working on the question, Currie feels there's still confusion about who is responsible for EMP risks: “DHS had not clearly identified internal roles and responsibilities for addressing electromagnetic risks to the electric grid or communicated these to external federal and industry partners “, his testimony states.

“An EMP detonated at 300 miles above the US may impact the entire country”, Currie elaborates in a GAO podcast here, adding that efforts are “sporadic and disparate”.

NASA's space weather strategy is welcome, but Currie still reckons more coordination is needed.

Existing DHS programs can be used to collect electromagnetic risk information: “better collection of threat, vulnerability, and consequence information through existing DHS programs and strengthened collaboration with federal partners could help DHS better assess the relative risk ranking of electromagnetic events versus other risks and help inform asset protection priorities”, his testimony says.

Of course, severe weather, squirrels, weasels and birds are also problematic where electricity's involved … ®

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