and analyzed the effects of various government policies, such as price and allocation controls, on the adaptive responses of the economy.

This chapter takes a different view of the emergency process, emphasizing what we call its human dimension—the behavior of individuals and institutions in anticipation of energy emergencies and the effects of an energy supply interruption on social institutions, social processes, and individual well-being. This perspective recognizes that despite the theory of market allocation, governments have repeatedly intervened in emergencies. Various social goals and social processes, underemphasized in market analyses, play a major causal role in generating political demands for government intervention and are also important in their own right. The best example is probably the fact that energy emergencies are perceived as human failures. This perception leads to efforts to place blame, and political conflict over responsibility predictably follows.


We define an energy emergency (after Fritz, 1961) as an event, concentrated in time and place, in which an interruption in energy supply or use disrupts essential functions of a society or economy.

Two aspects of this definition are worth noting. First, an emergency is a temporary phenomenon. Emergency preparedness is distinctive in that it concerns preparations for and responses to short-run, abnormal conditions. Second, an emergency exists because the economy and society are disrupted, not just because energy supply or use is interrupted. Energy is a means to social ends; it is not an end in itself. When those social ends can be achieved with substantially less energy, even on relatively short notice—by using stored energy, reducing nonessential uses of energy, substituting other things for energy, or changing people’s views about comfort and convenience—the tie between energy events and true emergencies is weak. At the heart of energy emergency preparedness, therefore, is the relationship between energy and society.

Dimensions of Energy Emergencies

Energy emergencies differ from each other in important ways, and those differences affect the role government needs to play and the kinds of policies it will undertake. At least eight dimensions of energy emergencies are important:

  1. Causation. The cause of an emergency may be internal or external to the affected area: for example, a power plant breakdown or a foreign oil

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement