The Ramapo Fault Line

Hector Santana
6 min readJun 16, 2023

What it Means to You?

The Hudson River (left) is a large river on the Westside of Manhattan pictured above. photo: worldatlas

For New York City residents the thought of an earthquake happening in the city is so remote, it is hardly mentioned. But what if I told you that the chances are not that remote at all, what would you think?

Most New Yorkers are completely unaware of a fault line that runs through the Hudson River. What is a fault line? A fault line is a crack in the Lithosphere caused by stress along the tectonic plates as they move alongside one another. Tectonic plates move in opposite directions causing friction and the movement often felt during an earthquake. However, tectonic plates can also move on top of one another which is often responsible for creating mountainous terrain. By the way, there are six smaller intraplate lines in Manhattan alone. Those are smaller, less active fault lines that are less likely to result in a major quake.

So has there been movement along these fault lines in the past? Yes, there have been several recorded seismic events in New York City and in the surrounding region, particularly along the Ramapo Fault Line. That Line runs 185 miles from the New Jersey highlands through Pennsylvania to the Hudson River. It is responsible for tremors in Westchester County and as far away as Gladston and Mendham, New Jersey. With some of those tremors as recent as last year, the fault lines in the surrounding area are still active.

In fact, the biggest local quake on record was in 1884 when an earthquake toppled chimneys in New York City and in areas of New Jersey. That earthquake measured 5.5 on the Richter scale and was thought to have originated at the Ramapo Fault Line. But later, as seismic technology improved, it was learned that the 1884 quake actually began in Brooklyn, New York. Yes, Brooklyn, 25 miles away from the Ramapo Fault Line. The quake was believed to have started off the coast of Coney Island. While most people do not know that happened it is clear that an earthquake in New York City is possible. In fact, some scientists believe that it is only a matter of time before we see a significant event.

Manhattan fault lines as reported by the Daily Mail in April 2018.

Should you be concerned? Well, it’s not as if you should ignore the possibilities. The truth is scientists don’t want you to be afraid, but they do want you to be prepared. How can you be prepared for an earthquake? Knowing what to do during an earthquake is your first task. Just knowing where to sit in your home, getting under a sturdy table, or getting out onto a staircase in a building will increase your chances of survival. If you survive the initial quake you will need to have provisions, such as food, water, cash, and supplies for an extended period. You may have to leave the area. Be prepared to be away for some time especially if your area is hard hit and sustains extensive damage. If your inclined, get some training, to be more adept to the changing environment that exists after an earthquake. Knowing how to self-extricate from let’s say an underground area, or a partial building collapse is extremely helpful. Knowing how to treat wounds or locate water is very important, since very often earthquake victims must endure time spent waiting for rescuers to treat the wounded and distribute supplies.

Go bags and supply caches are encouraged, you can get a detailed list of supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency website at www.fema.gov. While we are discussing go bags let’s not forget the planning needed to get out of the city. Because getting out will be extremely challenging under those conditions. You should take the time and effort to learn escape routes along the waterways including getting out by river using a watercraft. Public roads and bridges will likely be damaged, making leaving the city a challenging proposition. Communication with folks can help but only if phones and landlines are operational. Learn how to use a ham radio, these small radios are a lifeline to help and guidance after a disaster. Having one can save your life and countless others. You will need to get licensed, but it is worth the effort, trust me you will not regret it.

So, what does the fault line mean for you? Well now that you know about it, it should be something that you plan for and not something you fear. Keep abreast of the chatter surrounding this concern. It will not be difficult given its implications. To re-cap have a go-bag ready, talk to your family about meeting places in an emergency. Consider using emergency two-way radios if cell phone service goes down. Practice getting out of the city when you can. Show your family how to get out using alternate routes when faced with the chaos and mayhem of a disaster. The bridges and tunnels are the first things that are closed in an earthquake. The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels will be closed as will the George Washington Bridge.

This inexpensive ham radio can be a life saver in an emergency. You will need a license, but it is well worth it.

How do you get out? Be prepared, learn alternate routes out of the city. Perhaps through trails and local waterways. In fact, in some instances crossing waterways may be your only option. Some preps have an inflatable boat in the closet for just that occasion. Limited on space, use a lifesaver float to get across, but make sure you are a strong swimmer. Floats are small and the Hudson and East River have strong currents, you can get caught in the powerful undertow. Make sure to coordinate with someone on the other side of the river, provided there is less devastation on that side than there is on yours. Having partners with a mutual responsibility to help you or vice versa is a great way to ensure that you will have help when you need it. This takes coordination and dedication on the part of all who agree to these terms. Take it seriously and understand what you are committing to do, you can't take it back when the shit hits the fan.

If you are on a motorized boat head away from the disaster area, perhaps south to New Jersey, Philidelphia, Maryland or Delaware. If you want to stay close check things out on Long Island. Remember, aftershocks are possible so the further you are from the active fault line the better. If you have to stay close, stay out in the open or in a one-story house where your chances of escaping are better. A tent is great as temporary shelter. Of course, this is obviously something no one wants to think about but unfortunately being prepared is exactly that, thinking about the things no one wants to think about and preparing for it. Remember, always hope for the best but prepare for the worse. Safe trails out there…

A canoe is a great way to get out provided there are calm waters. Get some training to cope with any issues.

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Hector Santana

*Top Writer-Camping and Survival. I love to write about the great outdoors, survival and foreign policy. An avid outdoorsman and survival instructor.