A definition of cascading disasters and cascading effects: Going beyond the “toppling dominos†metaphor

Gianluca Pescaroli, David Alexander


: The consequences of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake persuaded the global community to consider more realistically the problem of "cascading disasters". Since then, the concept has been widely used among scholars and practitioners but its definition remains vague. In order to explain a chain-sequence of interconnected failures, the word 'cascading' is often associated with the metaphor of toppling dominoes, which may have a bearing on the cause-and-effect relationship that is a feature of most catastrophic events. Our paper aims to avoid this grey area and offer a clear definition that is suitable for field and theoretical use. A review of the literature is employed to point out the specific features that differentiate "cascading disasters" and "cascading effects" from other forms and dynamics of disaster. Glossaries are surveyed and past disasters analysed in order to reflect on which are the critical elements of a 'cascade' and how best to investigate them. Our conclusions suggest that interdependencies, vulnerability, amplification, secondary disasters and critical infrastructure are important factors that need to be addressed in risk reduction practices in order to limit cascading during disasters. 


Cascading; Vulnerability;Secondary Disasters;Interconnections;Critical Infrastructures;Amplification

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