Company looks to save lives with 'tsunami pods'

CAMAS, Wash. - The terrifying video images of the ocean consuming Japanese cities and of barrels bobbing in the water during the 2011 tsunami disaster have inspired a Camas man to develop a safety device that could save lives the next time ocean waves ravage a shoreline.

Randy Harpers' Rescue-Pods, which resemble giant orange fishing bobbers, have been featured on History Channel's Invention USA show.

The pods are now ready for market and Harper claims they can save lives in the event of a tsunami - something that officials and quake experts have long said could happen at any time along stretches of Oregon and Washington coastlines popular with local residents and tourists.

Harper said he's had 50 inquiries just this month.

The pods come in two sizes that seat two or four people. Harper and his friends said they expect to sell four or five units in the next month. The pods cost $4,500 or $6,500, depending on the model. That price is less than what other companies are selling lesser-equipped models for.

The pods feature seats with dual over-the-shoulder 5-point belts, a GPS locator beacon to aid search crews, inflatable life jackets and three days worth of food and water. Hooks on the pod's exterior allow easy connection for a helicopter to lift it out of the water. Small windows allow those inside to see out.

There are also seasickness bags for the perhaps inevitable result of bobbing around in the water for long periods of time. There is room for owners to stow other gear in the pod as well, according to the website.

A real-world test of the pod, involving rolling a sealed pod down a hill and off a small berm into a small lake with Harper's daughter and her boyfriend inside, was successful. The pod even hit a tree on the way down to the water.

Harper said one advantage of the pods is that they may be safer than trying to dodge water-borne debris on land during a tsunami.

"If you're in the water, it can take a lot more impact than sitting on dry land because it's going to move," Harper said. "We're very confident in being secure inside of here."

The pods are made in Camas, Washington, from locally-sourced parts. The bobber-shaped pod structure itself is actually a water tank that was already in production by another Camas company.

Harper also sees the pods as having useful applications beyond tsunamis, such as a buried tornado shelter or as a type of lifeboat onboard ships.