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The risks of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack simply cannot be overstated. A single powerful charge detonated at a high-enough altitude over the continental US, for example, could devastate the entire country. By some estimates, nearly 90 percent of the population would perish within a year.

Some officials are taking notice. A new report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) states that federal agencies need to facilitate better cooperation to prevent and mitigate the impact from such an attack.

The danger of EMP is so severe, that a 2008 report by the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack issued 90 recommendations on how to mitigate and address the issue.

The GAO report looked at the preparedness of the departments of Energy (DoE), Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). GAO found that many of the Commission’s recommendations have been taken up by the DHS and DoE and implemented in policy adjustments. Neither agency, however, has carried out a sufficient risk assessment study regarding a possible attack.

Further, “DHS officials did not identify any DHS representatives or offices as having broader designated responsibility for performing key oversight or coordination roles regarding electromagnetic risks within DHS’s overall infrastructure protection efforts, including activities intended to help address risks to the electrical grid,” the report said.

The GAO report calls for clearer and greater collaboration between the agencies, with particular focus on several key areas relating to information sharing, further assessments, and development of EMP protections.