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Exploring the Space of Possibilities in Cascading Disasters with Catastrophe Dynamics


Some of the most devastating natural events on Earth, such as earthquakes and tropical cyclones, are prone to trigger other natural events, critical infrastructure failures, and socioeconomic disruptions. Man-made disasters may have similar effects, although to a lesser degree. We investigate the space of possible interactions between 19 types of loss-generating events, first by encoding possible one-to-one interactions into an adjacency matrix A, and second by calculating the interaction matrix M of emergent chains-of-events. We first present the impact of 24 topologies of A on M to illustrate the non-trivial patterns of cascading processes, in terms of the space of possibilities covered and of interaction amplification by feedback loops. We then encode A from 29 historical cases of cascading disasters and compute the matching matrix M. We observe, subject to data incompleteness, emergent cascading behaviors in the technological and socioeconomic systems, across all possible triggers (natural or man-made); disease is also a systematic emergent phenomenon. We find interactions being mostly amplified via two events: network failure and business interruption, the two events with the highest in-degree and betweenness centralities. This analysis demonstrates how cascading disasters grow in and cross over natural, technological, and socioeconomic systems.

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