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Filling in the gaps: ORAU develops a new theoretical model for nuclear security culture

When ORAU organizational culture subject matter expert Jeff Miller, Ph.D., C.I.H., C.S.P., began formulating ideas for a new model of nuclear security culture, the sketch began on a Starbucks® napkin. Miller, along with ORAU health communications expert Julie Crumly, Ph.D., spent months brainstorming the possibility of a new security culture model that could be applied to nuclear facilities and help explain why some organizations are more successful than others at protecting our nation’s nuclear assets.

Miller has conducted nuclear safety culture evaluations at more than 40 sites across the country. His work related to nuclear security revealed that there are factors that differentiate safety and security. For example, in the nuclear safety world, hazard information is shared broadly and openly with a goal of preventing injuries and illness. In nuclear security, information about security vulnerabilities is closely guarded and disseminated on a need-to-know basis. Such is the paradox between nuclear safety and security.

“The model we developed helps explain this paradox by integrating two previously established theories with empirical results from performing nuclear security culture evaluations,” Miller conveyed.

Miller, along with Davyda Hammond, Ph.D., took the environmental factors and issues unique to nuclear security organizations and created a model (below) that accounts for environmental factors, such as global affairs and geopolitics, the built work environment, leadership behavior, human vigilance and organizational performance. The model flows counterclockwise, demonstrating how each security culture factor is impacted by possible security threats and how security breaches may lead to breakdowns in security performance.

“Our model adapts the Swiss Cheese Model of Accident Causation developed by Dr. James Reason. Even though defense systems are effective, some threats can penetrate if the holes in the cheese align,” Miller said.

The security threats that can penetrate the openings can be malicious attempts by bad actors and nonmalicious threats, such as human error, or random events of nature, Miller explained.

With the nuclear security culture model, ORAU researchers use qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to survey the workforce, conduct focus groups and interview managers at nuclear sites to determine cultural factors that are impacting security performance.

“A legitimate question that is sometimes asked is ‘Why do we even care about perceptions of the workforce?’” said Miller, who has more than 30 years of experience working with organizations with nuclear operations. “It’s because of the relationships among attitude, perception, motivation, behavior and performance.” If you understand the perceptions of the workforce, it provides insight into factors that ultimately determine performance.

Miller presented the new Nuclear Security Culture Model in February at the International Atomic Energy Agency, International Conference on Nuclear Security 2020 in Vienna, Austria.

Nuclear Security Culture Model

Security Culture Model

Global Affairs/Geopolitics globe then an arrow points to mission. Arrow points to work environment

  • Infrastructure
  • Workforce
  • Contracts
  • Budgets
  • Legacy events
  • production

Arrow points to execution and continues on to Leadership behavior/human & Organizational Performance

ORAU Media Contacts and Information

About ORAU

ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, provides science, health, and workforce solutions that address national priorities and serve the public interest. Through our specialized teams of experts and access to a consortium of more than 150 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local, and commercial customers to provide innovative scientific and technical solutions and help advance their missions. ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Media Contacts

Pam BoneeDirector, CommunicationsCell: (865) 603-5142
Wendy WestManager, CommunicationsCell: (865) 207-7953