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Cascading effects research conclusions





Adequate crisis communication is one of the most important aspects to stop crises from escalating due to inadequate population behaviour. To succeed, it needs to follow well-established good practices and guidelines to be successful and prevent inadequate actions of the population: Information about threats should be timely, specific, consistent, accurate and clear, communication with the public should already start before a crisis to build trust, information about the crisis situation should not be withheld from the public but shared as honestly and openly as possible.


Cascading effect research is currently at its early stage. According to Pescaroli and Alexander (2015), “Cascading effects are the dynamics present in disasters, in which the impact of a physical event or the development of an initial technological or human failure generates a sequence of events, [… linked or dependent from each other …], that result in physical, social or economic disruption. Thus, an initial impact can trigger other phenomena that lead to consequences with significant magnitudes. Cascading effects are complex and multi-dimensional and evolve constantly over time.


The objective of Snowball project is to develop a support tool for the decision makers in the framework of emergency planning and preparedness enhancing at local, national and international level. To this aim, a theoretical model for cascading effects simulation is developed as methodological framework for modelling and simulation. Snowball theoretical model is based on the refinement of a consolidated methodology built-up in previous and ongoing research projects, where LUPT-PLINIVS played a key role in the problem conceptualization and software modelling.



Recent studies have emphasized the importance and severity of cascading effects in the occurrence of crises. Critical infrastructures depict an important part of decision making during crises. A blackout in one infrastructure system could be propagated to other infrastructure systems, e.g. a power blackout could lead to severe consequences in the interconnected water grid or mobile phone grid. Infrastructures and supply grids are highly interconnected and therefore damages caused by natural hazardous events (heavy storm, volcano eruption, flood) can propagate across different systems. 


The models of the Snowball’s Decision Support System are able to assess the impacts of a sequence of interdependent disasters on the elements exposed (population, buildings, grids) and to define a set of possible mitigation strategies. In a scenario that involves cascading effects, the choice of the most appropriate mitigation strategy is particularly challenging, as it involves multiple conflicting objectives and several variables to be taken in consideration. The aim of the decision algorithm is to support the decision maker in the choice of the best mitigation strategy, according to its expected impacts and his/her priorities.


Social media has changed the way our current society produces, distributes and consumes informational content.
The wide availability of Twitter messages to the general public has cast a favorable light in using this data source for research purpose. In case of natural hazard, tweets can be easily caught to apprehend crisis impacts, people’s feelings or needs. Finding out promptly newsworthy topics can prove by any means useful for crisis management.
In Snowball, the aim is to build a model to analyze the numerous and spontaneous tweets during a flood, a storm or an earthquake then compute high level indicators.