Disaster Risk Creation and Cascading Disasters Within Large Technological Systems

COVID-19 and the 2021 Texas Blackouts

Published in: Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management (2021). doi: 10.1111/1468-5973.12378

by Aaron Clark-Ginsberg, David DeSmet, Ismael Arciniegas Rueda, Ryan Hagen, Brian Hayduk

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Given the right organisational attributes and sets of incentives, power grids, water systems and other large technological systems can function reliably, even as high-reliability networks. However, high reliability remains 'unlikely, demanding and at risk' as organisational sociologist Todd La Porte stated 25 years ago. What is much more common is risk creation—the creation or exacerbation of hazard, increase in exposure and propagation of vulnerability—that can interact and cascade across these systems when realized as a disaster. Here we describe the 2021 Texas blackouts during the COVID-19 pandemic through this lens of disaster risk creation and cascading disaster, showing how risk emerges and propagates across large technological systems. Given their ubiquity and criticality, we argue that more research is desperately needed to understand how to support high-reliability networks and that more efforts should be made to invest in their resilience.

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