the same incentives might be made available for other investments that offer the same benefits to the nation. This approach would invite parties to be creative in identifying options that they believe make sense for them and for the total energy emergency program. Decentralized efforts to improve energy efficiency during nonemergency times constitute one important option because such efforts can help prevent emergencies. Besides encouraging innovation in the U.S. society and economy, promotion of decentralized responses can help build a more diversified and resilient system for responding to emergencies. As a first step, the federal government should ascertain the potential roles of social groups and relationships in a decentralized approach to emergency preparedness and help to identify options for enhancing their potential.
To the extent possible, the federal government should ensure that emergency preparedness is clearly linked with emergency prevention. Not only can preparedness help to prevent some kinds of crises, but a full portfolio of preventive actions can help to reduce the challenge of emergency preparedness—which is formidable at best—and to make preparedness more credible as a public and private enterprise.
In its troubleshooting role, as part of the endeavor to rely on decentralized responses as much as possible, the federal government should ensure that critical social needs are met during energy emergencies. If critical social needs such as health care and law enforcement are not met during an emergency and if major inequities result from scarce energy supplies and higher prices, there will be strong, perhaps irresistible pressures for centralized government action. Even an administration that wishes to sustain a market-oriented, decentralized approach to an emergency must rely on previous federal government action to ensure that critical needs are met and that inequities do not reach a socially unacceptable level. As a step toward these objectives, a careful study of the needs of groups affected, of essential services required, of conditions under which services would be affected, and so forth is necessary, and alternatives for meeting these needs should be identified and examined.
The federal government should keep to a minimum any uncertainty about its potential uses of the policy instruments available to it. Whenever there is uncertainty about the potential uses of an emergency power by the federal government, such as price controls, fuel allocation policies, or decisions to sell oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, other parties tend to assume that full government power will be used. As a result, many of them will take less responsibility for emergency preparedness themselves, increasing the demands on government during an emergency. In this sense, uncertainty about government policies has a strong policy impact; clearly,