responses to crises and in organizing the energy system to be less crisis-prone. For a number of years, research in the social and behavioral sciences has been analyzing human behavior in crisis situations. The social processes involved—panic behavior, emotional reactions to threatened loss of freedom, and similar types of responses—are not easily understandable in terms of rational choice, but they can be understood in terms of concepts developed by psychologists and sociologists (e.g., Schultz, 1965; Brehm and Brehm, 1981). Other research findings and insights can be used to inform political debate on the issue of preventing energy crises. These include research on the ways settlement patterns, land-use policies, and other social forces affect energy needs. In addition, the vision that has limited policy makers to a reactive approach is in itself the product of a fundamentally important process—one that shapes the way people think about energy. We discuss this process in Chapter 2.
The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant focused attention on the human dimension, but this time in an area of energy production. The President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island concluded that “…the fundamental problems are people-related problems and not equipment problems.” A major problem was that the plant’s control panels had been designed in a way that confused operators when the equipment malfunctioned. This confusion could have been predicted, given knowledge of the plant design and of processes of human perception and information processing. Both perception and information processing have been studied extensively (e.g., Haber, 1969) and have been the subject of considerable applied research with airplane control panels (Roscoe, 1980) and other technologies (e.g., Sheridan and Johannsen, 1976; Van Cott and Kinkade, 1972). Such behavioral research has been used in both the public and private sectors for many years—since long before the development of a nuclear power industry—and has led to improved training of equipment operators and more human-centered design of machines. It seems clear, however, that this expertise had not been used in the nuclear energy industry. Since the disaster, considerable new investment has been made by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry in understanding how human beings interact with the equipment and in developing more understandable equipment design (Mynatt, 1982).
Another major problem at Three Mile Island was a lack of coordination among relevant personnel. For example, the “incident” was not reported by operators to their supervisors, or by utility officials to federal and state authorities, for some time. This delay occurred in spite of company policies and federal regulations requiring immediate reporting. However, there are reasons that employees do not always follow company policies and that