Should Potential Earthquakes Worry New Yorkers?

NYC does rock and roll, seismically, from time to time

Navy photo of Japan quake & tsunami damage

The good news is earthquakes in NYC and the Tri-State area are rare. The medium news is typical NYC condo, co-op and apartment polices don’t cover these events, though special policies are available for residents who want extra peace of mind.

People are often surprised to learn that every once in a while, the city does feel the ground shake from some real, honest-to-goodness seismic activity — and a strong quake would have severe, if not disastrous, consequences for Manhattan, the boroughs and surrounding areas.

Luckily, even moderate quakes are extremely rare in New York. Technically, the city and area around it get a half-dozen or so tremors a year,lthough most are scarcely noticeable and momentary. But the city’s densely packed, tall, aging buildings, countless windows and population of nearly 9 million mean an earthquake that merely shatters windows could cause millions or billions in damage and create a public panic that could cost even more.

Something else near the city is cause for concern — the Indian Point nuclear power plant, 40 miles north of the city on the Hudson. Just recently, after the massive damage in Japan, Gov. Cuomo called for a review of its safety after, he said, new data showed Indian Point was the most vulnerable nuclear plant in the country to earthquake damage.

Just a few months ago, New York felt the tremblings of its strongest earthquake in 18 years — a magnitude 3.9 quake with its epicenter about five kilometers beneath the Atlantic and 80 miles due south of Montauk. (The New York Times blogged about it.) It caused no real damage, but it served as a reminder that NYC isn’t too far from a pair of fault lines.

In 1992, a 4.7-magnitude tremor rippled out from the same source as the November quake, the spot in the Atlantic where the Hudson Canyon runs off the edge of the continental shelf to the ocean bottom. Seven years before, a 4.1 quake briefly rumbled across Westchester County, the product of an active fault zone that runs through the Hudson Valley and northern New Jersey. Still, the chances of an earthquake-generated Japan-caliber tsunami — or a real-life version of the computer-generated nightmare in “The Day After Tomorrow” — crashing into New York are minimal.

So to New Yorkers wondering if they should buy earthquake insurance — it’s up to you. We at Gotham Insurance Co. Inc. aren’t going to encourage or discourage people. Just know that the coverage is typically excluded from homeowners, renters, condo and co-op policies, although it can be purchased as an add-on. Basically, if you think it’ll mean a little more peace of mind, we’d be happy to advise you about it — and isn’t peace of mind what insurance is all about?

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