City Journal recently published an excellent article about the danger of a megaquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the west coast of North America. I highly recommend reading it in full - it's certainly enough to give anyone in their right minds pause for thought! One aspect in particular, though, caught my eye.
Tsunami pods ... are now available, manufactured by Survival Capsule, a company based in suburban Seattle. Made with aircraft-grade aluminum, they’re watertight and supposedly strong enough to withstand just about anything that nature can hurl at them.
They come with flares and personal-locator beacons that go out on marine-band radio. A two-person capsule is spacious enough for weeks’ worth of supplies, weighs in at 300 pounds, and costs $13,500. A user should put on a helmet and strap himself in, because he’ll be in for the roughest ride of his life. “It makes people uncomfortable to think about dying,” Survival Capsule’s first-ever customer, Jeanne Johnson, said to Portland’s KOIN 6 News. “I don’t think about dying anymore. I think about having to get in here and lock the door.”
There's more at the link.
Further reading showed that another company manufactures similar pods, constructed out of polyethylene rather than aluminum (and consequently much cheaper), with a top entry rather than a side door.
Both pods are designed to be anchored to a strong fixed point on the ground, so they won't drift away. They have lifting rings or attachment points installed so they can be lifted out of the water, and both claim to offer storage for emergency rations, etc.
I have huge doubts about whether or not these devices will actually save lives during a major tsunami. Just for a start, consider the pressure of so much water rushing in. The video below was taken in Japan during the 2011 tsunami there. Watch how the water moves vehicles, boats, heavy weights such as garbage skips, even entire buildings - and not slowly, either.
All those objects were ramming into each other, buildings, and what have you. If your survival capsule was floating among them, it'd suffer such collisions not once or twice, but dozens, scores or even hundreds of times. I should think even the toughest capsule would have a hard time surviving that, particularly if it were pinned between a heavy object ramming it, and a solid backstop that would not give under the impact - the side of a building, say, or a cliff face. I seriously doubt whether the capsules pictured above could survive that, again and again, hour after hour after hour.
Then, there's the anchoring line, or cable, or chain. Just look at the force of that water alone, never mind impacts from passing debris. It'd take a very strong line indeed to resist that pull, and any collisions with other wreckage would tug and jerk at the line with an even stronger force. I'm pretty sure the line, or perhaps its attachment point(s) to the ground or the pod, would fail. The pod would go drifting away with all the other debris. Where it would end up is anyone's guess. What if it's washed into a big building such as a warehouse or factory, that then collapses on top of it? What are its occupants' chances of survival then?
Next, there's the problem of seasickness. Those pods have little or no stability. They'll be bobbing around like corks on the water, tossing from side to side, perhaps tumbled completely upside down now and again as they hit shallow ground and are dragged across it by the water flow before moving back into deep water. (If you doubt that, look how those cars in the video above were thrown around by the water.) Those inside the pod are going to be disoriented, dazed, and probably sick as all get-out before even a few minutes have passed. There are no windows, so they won't know what's coming, and the fear of not knowing what the next bump or bounce might signify will weigh heavily on them. I think being in such a pod might be a nightmare of its own special quality, to put it mildly!
Also, there's no way to get rid of one's vomit. It'll swill around the floor, adding its own special aroma to the atmosphere inside, and probably splashing all over the occupants as the pod bobs around in the rushing water. The same applies to the products of urination and defecation. Your bodily functions won't stop just because you're waiting to be rescued - and there's no toilet inside, nor is there room for one. There isn't even room to stand up, even if the pod were stable enough to allow that. You'll have to "do your business" all over your seat, maybe even in your clothes! Put all that together, and I really, really don't want to be stuck in such a pod for days on end . . .
As for emergency rations, rescue, and so on . . . if you can carry two or three days' rations with you, that's great, but what if your pod is washed out to sea? It'll be hard to spot among all the other floating debris, and rescuers will be so busy dealing with the broad mass of victims and survivors that they won't have time to go looking for it. The largest concentrations of survivors will receive the most attention, on the basis of doing the most good for the greatest number. You'll be drifting off on your own, far from the crowds. Why should rescuers detach a badly-needed helicopter to go looking for you? Will they even know you exist? If your pod has an emergency locator beacon, they might detect that: but those beacons will be going off from drifting boats, aircraft, and people in life rafts or canoes or whatever. Yours will be one among many. I wouldn't count on early rescue, if I were you - but I doubt you'll be able to carry enough rations or water to endure more than a few days. Those are very small craft indeed.
I'm not saying these pods are useless, but I think they're an absolute last resort, when there are no other options at all. Frankly, if I lived in a place where these pods were the only realistic option to survive a tsunami, I'd move to a safer place right away, while I still had time! Give me somewhere with a reasonable chance of safe evacuation, even if the views aren't as good!
I suspect the price of a pod could be better applied to more versatile aids to surviving a disaster, like a used small camper or travel trailer, either ready to go, or already parked in a safer place to which one can evacuate. These pods appear to be far from a guarantee of survival, despite their manufacturers' promises. I'm not sure that I wouldn't prefer to buy a used lifeboat off a ship being scrapped, and stick that in the back yard. If I'm going to float away anyway, at least I'd have more room in it for myself, my family and our supplies - even, perhaps, for a portable toilet or handy bucket!
What say you, readers? Do these things appear useful, or are they just an expensive survivalist toy? Let us know in Comments.