Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Foresight Tools for Responding to cascading effects in a crisis

Article Category

Article available in the following languages:

Cooperation tools to mitigate cascading effects during crises

Crisis situations are difficult enough to overcome on their own, but things can easily turn for the worse when cascading effects — situations where a physical event or system failure triggers a sequence of events in other systems, leading to consequences of a higher magnitude — come into play. The FORTRESS project set out to gain a greater understanding of cascading effects and provide stakeholders with tools to cope better with these complex phenomena.

Society icon Society
Security icon Security

Let’s take a power breakdown in a defined area: if emergency power can take over for a maximum of 48 hours and the system operator expects restoration within a maximum of 96 hours, then there is a 48-hour gap where cascading events might occur. Unlike the domino effect, these events are not a linear chain of events: They can spread in any direction involving amplifications or even feedback loops. This is where cooperation becomes essential. In the above situation, a local public transport provider possessing the largest amount of missing resources in the city could help keep cascading effects under control. ‘Strengthening cooperation and communication across organisations in different sectors is a key factor for better prevention, preparedness and response,’ says Prof. Lean Hempel, senior researcher at TU Berlin and coordinator of the FORTRESS (Foresight Tools for Responding to cascading effects in a crisis) project. ‘More than sophisticated tools, this requires a mutual understanding of critical situations. But in spite of good initiatives, for example in the field of urban resilience, cross-sectoral cooperation is still too weak in most European cities and regions and especially between Member States.’ Completed at the end of March, FORTRESS provides the means for such enhanced cooperation. The tools developed can help crisis managers and infrastructure providers from different sectors to analyse their mutual dependencies, to develop a common understanding of risks of cascading effects and to plan joint and coordinated information exchange and response during crises. ‘The FORTRESS tools are very flexible and can be used at different levels and for different purposes, but first of all for cooperative scenario building. They support informal scenario discussions between different stakeholders, as well as a formalised collaboration process initiated by a civil protection authority, for example,’ Prof. Hempel points out. The two tools developed under the project work in tandem. On the one hand, the ‘FORTRESS model builder’ (FMB) can model cross-system or cross-stakeholder dependencies in crisis scenarios. It identifies entities that may become relevant or affected during a crisis and defines the relations between these entities. ‘Experts from different organisations log into the platform and indicate their dependency relations with other organisations. Different features and assessments trigger communication, which makes the tool unique especially for prevention.’ The ‘FORTRESS incident evolution tool’ (FIET) then provides users with a wide range of instruments to analyse how crises are likely to evolve or consider the consequences of entity failure while mitigation measures are not available. Field testing and prototypes Two major field tests were conducted over the course of the project, in order to evaluate the applicability of FORTRESS tools to the preparation phase of a cross-border flooding event involving the Netherlands and Germany. ‘End users really appreciated the flexibility of the tools and the cooperative approach to modelling. The results of the tests show that using the tools in the preparation phase can support reasoning related to likely crisis events as well as response planning,’ says Prof. Hempel. In the last phases of the project, prototypes were also developed for demonstration. The team expects FORTRESS outcomes to benefit end users as part of an integrated inter-sectoral workshop scenario building programme. ‘Stakeholders are invited to model a scenario and decide on the best mitigation methods for different pathways, based on the likes of dynamic criticality assessments, which allows them to take into account the fact that the criticality of one entity can change during the evolution of a crisis. First, electricity is crucial, but after a while water might become even more crucial as its supply directly impacts health issues.’ The FORTRESS project was completed at the end of March, and dissemination work has just begun.


FORTRESS, crisis, cascading effects, coordination, response, FIET, platform

Discover other articles in the same domain of application