PerspectiveNetwork Science

Curtailing cascading failures

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Science  17 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6365, pp. 860-861
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0474

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Cascading behaviors are ubiquitous, from power-grid failures (1) to “flash crashes” in financial markets (2, 3) to the spread of political movements such as the “Arab Spring” (4). The causes of these cascades are varied with many unknowns, which make them extremely difficult to predict or contain. Particularly challenging are cascading failures that arise from the reorganization of flows on a network, such as in electric power grids, supply chains, and transportation networks. Here, the network edges (or “links”) have some fixed capacity, and we see that some small disturbances easily dampen out, but other seemingly similar ones lead to massive failures. On page 886 of this issue, Yang et al. (5) establish that a small “vulnerable set” of components in the power grid is implicated in large-scale outages. Although the exact elements in this set vary with operating conditions, they reveal intriguing correlations with network structure.