While natural disasters such as earthquakes cannot be avoided, there are ways to improve safety, minimize loss and injury, and increase public awareness of the risks involved. One of the most effective ways to lessen the impact of natural disasters on people and property is through risk assessment and mitigation – which was the topic of a study to document the scale and extent of damage and disruption caused by a hypothetical earthquake in the NY-NJ-CT region.
MCEER assembled a team of experts to address this problem under the umbrella name NYCEM – The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation. The NYCEM group brought together academic researchers, industry practitioners and government emergency management officials for the first time to address a specific threat facing the Tri-State area. Conducted over a four-year period (1999-2003), the results, documented in the final report, provide a picture of the number of injuries and casualties, damage to critical facilities such as hospitals, police stations, and fire stations, and the amount of debris likely to be generated.
Using different magnitude scenarios, M5, M6, and M7 at a historic epicenter (the M5.2 earthquake that struck New York City in 1884) and different probabilistic scenarios, with 100-, 500- and 2500- year return periods, the researchers described some key findings:
Building and Income: The combination of building damage and income loss were used to estimate total losses. A moderate M5 quake at the 1884 historic site would cost nearly $5 billion; and a M6 and M7 event at this site would cost about $40 billion and $200 billion, respectively. The total for 9/11 was $98 billion. Long-term annualized building-related earthquake losses are estimated to be about $0.2 billion per year. This does not include losses from damage to the infrastructure.
Hospitalization: Hospital functionality would most likely be adequate, except for an M7 event, which would cause double the injuries of 9/11 and require 26% more beds than available.
Shelter Required: In all scenarios, an earthquake could be expected to lead to homelessness and dislocation; in M5, M6 or M7 quakes, nearly 3,000, 200,000 or 770,000 people, respectively, could be expected to need shelter.
Fires: Although the number and location of fire stations in Manhattan seem adequate for all events, for larger events (>M6), at least 900 fires could break out, which may require more water than would be available.
Buildings Damaged: A M6 or M7 quake at the historic 1884 site could completely damage as many as 2,600, or 12,800 buildings, respectively. The most vulnerable areas in Manhattan, due to soft soil and construction type, would be Chinatown and the Upper East Side. Unreinforced masonry is the most vulnerable, most common construction type.
Debris: An M5 quake would generate 1.6 million tons of debris (comparable to 9/11); a M6 and M7 quake would generate about 40 and 132 million tons, respectively.
Lives Lost: A moderate M6 earthquake at 2:00 pm at the historic site could be expected to cause about 1,200 deaths. The greatest concentration of fatalities would occur in the New York City metro area, and in larger events, fatalities would increase proportionately.
Overall, the researchers determined that given the area’s historic seismicity, population density, and vulnerability of the region’s built environment, it is clear that even a moderate earthquake would have significant impact on the lives and economy of the Tri-State region.
The final report is available through the NYCEM group’s website.
Key contributors to the NYCEM project and final report include Klaus Jacob, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory; Daniel O’Brien, New York State Emergency Management Office; Bruce Swiren, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Region II; Michael Tantala, Tantala Associates, Consulting Engineers; George Deodatis, Columbia University; Guy Nordenson, Princeton University; Mary Ann Marrocolo, New York City Emergency Management Office; Michael Augustyniak, New Jersey State Police; Jane Stoyle, George Lee and Michel Bruneau, MCEER and Andrea Dargush, formerly of MCEER.