Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


SNOWBALL Report Summary

Project reference: 606742
Funded under: FP7-SECURITY

Periodic Report Summary 1 - SNOWBALL (Lower the impact of aggravating factors in crisis situations thanks to adaptative foresight and decision-support tools)

Project Context and Objectives:
The forces behind modernisation – social, economic, technological, administrative – have boosted the wealth of modern society to unprecedented levels, but at the same time they have made us more vulnerable to disruptions and threats. Increasingly complex and tightly coupled systems deliver efficiency and security, but also the potential for disaster if those systems fail. Public services, ranging from medical treatment to electricity and transport, operate under co-operative agreements and require coordination with multiple governments. Terrorist attacks may not only damage local targets, but also entire populations if critical infrastructures are targeted. Future crises will not respect man-made borders, but instead cascade across the social, economic and technological systems of densely populated countries.
The cascading effects are those which are at play in a “system of systems”. They need to be better understood in order to predict at best the impact of a crisis and to take the appropriate measures. It is necessary not only to understand causes and consequences, but also why consequences may expand, in order to improve public safety.
Moreover, in the happening of a catastrophic event (e.g., earthquake, flooding, nuclear catastrophe, etc.) the dynamics of human behaviour play a central role. During these disasters and emergencies, irrational behaviours such as panic and confusion are likely to take control of human activities. In such a context, taking into account the effect of communication to the public as well as all other type of events gives a global view of the phenomenon. In such situations, the development of a decision support tool enabling to provide valuable insights into the mechanisms stemming from lack of coordination between people involved in catastrophic events could be worthwhile since the dynamics of social contagion may lead to bad overall results deriving from collective panic behaviour.
In this context of hyper-connected societies -where networks of all sorts are intertwined- and because of population densities being so high –and therefore undesirable behaviours having so much more effect- it is necessary to better understand the cascading effects that might occur and involve the infrastructures –natural and technological- together with the citizens.
The overall objective of the project is to increase the preparedness of the European Union in respect to hazards that could amplify a large crisis. In the framework of SnowBall project, a dedicated tool will be developed in order to:
1. Apprehend and better predict and simulate the cascading effects that occur in a crisis;
2. Integrate population response and behaviour to the simulation tools;
3. Provide decision support to public authorities and decision makers in the light of cascading effects simulations;
4. Test the efficiency of the tool in the frame of various demonstrations.

In a nutshell, the project will develop a Decision Support System that will present in the same dashboard the present crisis situation, the results of a simulation tool that will integrate cascading effects, and the tools to perform an action (to see the effects recursively). The forecast will be more realistic, thus providing the decision support system with more accurate data to work on in order to advise decision makers more efficiently.
A modular solution of elementary events forming a global crisis will be adopted. Such structure will allow an easy integration of cascading factors. A more precise description will be made in the next section.
A demonstration will allow validating the tool and assessing the preparedness of Europe in the advent of a crisis integrating cascading effects.
Project Results:
During the first half period, Snowball has achieved a large part of the research that was planned regarding cascading effects in crisis. The software implementation is also advanced.
Regarding the research part, four partners have collaborated to develop a model to apprehend and foresee cascading effects in a crisis:
- The EM-DAT database (Emergency Events database, the international disaster database) was analysed and cascading effects in crisis identified among past crisis.
- Scenarios for cascading effect scenarios were developed in the wake of the knowledge acquired from EM-DAT.
- Based on a hazard, exposure and vulnerability approach, the partners have developed a methodology to model the impact of a natural disaster on human-built structures, and to simulate the cascading effects that will follow.
- The development of a tool to simulate the impact on technological networks (communication, power, water, etc.) and the propagation of damages inside and between these networks is a work in progress. An actual working tool is expected within the next year.
- Human behavior in crisis, and how it can worsen a crisis, has also been studied thoroughly during the first period. Some counter-intuitive results have been found. Such results are expected to be used to optimize the various tools being developed within the project, at different levels.
From a technological point of view, the project, during this first mid-term, has developed part of the modules that will compose the final Snowball solution. At the end of November 2015, the consortium will demonstrate a proof of concept of the platform to the European Commission. This Proof of concept will be composed of:
- An Event Log Database where data from a crisis is stored.
- A Data Layer and Thesaurus that will enable the integration of data from various sources with different formats.
- A Decision Support Algorithm that will not be able to work with real event data, at this stage.
- A Twitter crawler
- A mobile application that will allow Crisis Manager to require information from first responders.
- A portal for manual inputs that will allow first responders to manually declare events.
- A simulation tool that will implement the hazard, exposure and vulnerability approach developed within the project, in order to predict vulnerable areas in a city and increase preparedness.
- A mock-up of a simulation tool for network damage propagation
- An emergency alert system
- An action planning module
- A dashboard, interface for the Crisis Management, which will allow them to interact with all the different modules developed.
The results from the first half period are encouraging and with the Proof of Concept, the Snowball project will be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach.

Potential Impact:
The expected final results are the following:
Project component Identified innovation
1. Methodology to apprehend cascading effects A modular solution of elementary events forming a global crisis will be adopted. Such structure will allow an easier integration of cascading factors.
2. Data collection system A powerful data layer and a thesaurus are developed to ensure the integration of data from all formats
3. Cascading effects analysis Correlation links between the various components (natural, technological structures and humans) will be analysed by 4 experts: UNF (natural disasters); FHG (grids and humans); UCL (health and environment impact); EMAUG (human behaviour in times of crisis).
4. Events Log Database (ELDB) The vertical and horizontal interdependences of issues (environmental, societal, energy services, safety, security, mobility) require to be permanently interconnected and to provide information to all actors. The ELDB will be leaning on an existing tool going beyond thanks to a division in datamarts representing the modular approach to crisis components. The ELDB will enable to face the huge challenge posed by disasters through: contextualised data, rules of action in support of standard operational procedures, enriching options based on past events, optimized functions of command and control centres, added-value to real-time information.
5. Human behaviour monitoring Information gathered from social networks and through a dedicated mobile application, enabling a constant and real time feedback from the population and development of further tools to disseminate safety related information to a targeted public.
6. Simulators Simulations will be the root of the accuracy of forecasts and decision-support tools. Two complementary approaches will be adopted in SnowBall: a probabilistic approach and a quantitative approach.
The major innovations concerning simulations are:
- Multi-risk approach to study the impacts of natural and man-made hazards
- Quantitative modelling of single grids with focus on reliability and fine tuning
- Agent-based coupling of engineering grid simulation
- Agent-based modelling of humans in different roles with and without coupling to networks
- Qualitative and semi-quantitative assessment of cascading effects, e.g. using correlation matrices
- Use of real-time information for hazard propagation in crisis
7. Crisis Management Dashboard Global solution displaying at the same time the actual situation of the crisis + the results of simulations + a graphic workflow for decision making + a Decision Support System to provide advice on the best decisions to make and on priorities, considering estimates of expected damages to the population, infrastructure, buildings, productive activities + Emergency Alert System to inform the right people at the right time.
The identified end-users are the following:
- Decision makers and public authorities
- Emergency planners and first responders
- Civil protection mechanism
- General public

List of Websites:

Related information

Documents and Publications


BIDAU, Jean-Pierre (Project Director)
Tel.: +33 6 81 62 78 23
Fax: +33 1 45760107


Record Number: 187465 / Last updated on: 2016-08-19