Thursday, March 21, 2019

Tsunami "survival pods"? I doubt it!

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.



Rob said...

A far better idea is the Earthquake Survival Belt, it would work with a tsunami too!

The belt has balloons that inflate with lighter than air gas when you pull the lanyard and they lift you above the earthquake/tsunami.

Just the thing for folks down by the San Andres fault in California or those who live in the western part of Washington or Oregon....

Randy said...

How long does the air last in a tank that small?

Larry said...

I doubt the cables would hold, either. I do think you'd be safer riding along with the current at more or or less the same velocity as everything, bobbing like a cork. There are places along the coast where getting to high ground quickly enough would be highly problematic when everyone else is trying to do the same. An underground air-tight bomb shelter with air-supply, CO2 scrubbers, and an extensible snorkel/periscope/antenna mast would be a more likely bet. And multi-purpose!

capt fast said...

been in a few tsunami in japan and indonesia. interesting experience. these expensive toys look to me like a great way to tenderize ground meat.
the two best tsunami survival strategies are to 1) be at sea in deep water, and 2)be inland on higher ground than the flood debris will reach.
riding out a tsunami in a people bobber is just stupid.

MadMcAl said...

Reminds me of the Pulowski Preservation Shelter from Fallout.

Including the lack of survivability.
The fallout universe becomes more and more reality. At least the sick prewar portion of it.

Orvan Taurus said...

I suspect Larry has it. A better (not certain!) approach is to get in, strap in, and *fire explosive bolts* to release and take your chances riding with the forces of Nature.

Bob Gibson said...

I may have to look into the details, but it seems a reasonable idea. Note that in the clip the cars floating by seemed to be reasonably structurally intact despite not operating in their normal environment. Being spherical, these pods would be less likely to get crushed or hang up on things than devices with protrusions or irregular shapes, and more able to get squeezed out of tight spaces. Your nose gets deadened to the smells of noxious bodily emissions fairly quickly, so that in itself is not so much an issue as the psychological impact of wallowing in your own effluvia. That can be overcome, or at least ameliorated somewhat, by the idea 'better dirty than dead', though it may not seem like it at the time.

I agree with Larry that having this anchored off with chain or cable would be less desirable than 'going along with the flow'. This would make the impacts of objects at relative velocities less, uh, impactful than those imparted by current speed. As the waters recede, your pod, being quite buoyant, would likely end up on the top of whatever debris field it landed upon.

I agree with you, Peter, that this would be a method of *very* last resort. The best way to survive a Tsunami is to not be there when it occurs. However, for some folk that is not an option.

Beans said...

Why do these pods when you can pick up surplus motorized crash-type lifeboats (like those used on commercial ships or ocean oil rigs (as seen in 'Captain Phillips' and 'Deepwater Horizon'.) Designed to be launched 40' above the water, survive total immersion, built to deal with running into things, and with room for supplies, a bathroom, and room to stand up.

Your HOA might have an issue, but, well, poo on them.

In a suburban environment the pods you are talking about will work in up to total catastrophic circumstances. And short of a major tsunami, cabling should be okay. So spring floods, small tsunamis, okay. Anything else, well, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride indeed...

In an urban environment, well, up is the only available escape route, and pray the building you are 'upping' in is strong enough to survive the cataclysm.

Will said...

The plastic one should be a better design. I could see the aluminum one sustaining enough impacts near the door to lose sealing from permanent deformation.
In addition, placing the door at that level pretty much guarantees not being able to open it while floating. Just moving to the door location will roll it toward the surface. How would you transfer to a boat? Good chance the second passenger won't make it out before it sinks.
Should have head restraints of some sort, to keep from whipping around from impacts/tumbling. 4 strap belts should be 5 belt type.
I don't see how the lid is mounted on the plastic one. Might just be straps. Does it seal?

Stan_qaz said...

History has a lesson for folks on the Pacific coast, the Cascadia @1700 earthquake and tsunami. Couldn't find any easy to access maps of the water levels or flooded zones but the impression I got was high and huge.

My first thought is that any survival plan that depends on getting rescued is not a plan. Even a much smaller tsunami is going to leave responders overwhelmed and able to help a small fraction of the folks closest to them.

I see three main issues, water levels, water speed and debris, the boat idea above seems the most realistic, a hot-air balloon isn't that crazy either particularly if the basket floats well once you run out of propane. Evacuation by car, once the alarm has sounded is just going to be sitting stuck in jammed traffic waiting to die. Walking out, if you are close to high ground is a possibility, gonna get crowded fast though.

Margaret Ball said...

Simply teaching people NOT to stop and take cell phone videos of the advancing water would probably save an order of magnitude more lives than any number of "survival pods."

Unknown said...

being found after washing out to sea is not that big a problem, with a EPIRB/ELT it will be broadcasting your id and location, and people will be out looking for you (so with flares, etc to help the 'last mile' of the search, odds of being found are really good)

now, you may have to wait a bit, because all the wreaked boats will also have their beacons going off, so there will be a lot of targets to check.

But you have to survive the impacts until that point

David Lang

Sam L. said...

A woman I knew in the early aughts climbed a tree in Indonesia when the tsunami came in, 2003 or '4.

capt fast said...

this is my personal experience.
debris field of tsunami are real meat grinders and death dealers. very few people drown in a tsunami during the flood stage. they die in the debris or get pinned under it under water. discounting the power of water borne objects like a 12,000 lb truck is foolish. if it doesn't get you during the flood, it gets another chance when the water flows back to the beach.
either be in deep water or on the highest possible ground you can reach in the time allowed. the further away your location is from the event center causing the tsunami, the more time you will have to react.
If your out boating head for deep water. if ashore head for high ground at the first warning. do not delay for anything. if you are concerned for anyone other than yourself, remember that you cannot help them if you die first.
EPIRBs are a good idea, however with at least several hours to check each one of hundreds going off during the event, the amount of time needed is going to be a crap shoot for a survivor in a glorified beach ball. water borne first responders are going to be just as damaged as anyone else if they are in port. who will rescue the rescuers?
in order to survive a tsunami aftermath, the ability to depend on yourself and to self-rescue is of paramount importance. there will be bodies everywhere you don't expect them to be and drinking water scarce.
a tsunami is a fast, violent and shocking event most people will never be involved in. it is not hollywood. it is much much worse than anything hollywood has shown you. good luck.

Unknown said...

the epirb also is broadcasting an ID, so it's known to be on a survival pod, they will have a pretty high priority, but that's why a week's worth of supplies is a good idea (a marine radio also helps)

I'm not saying these are a great idea (what are the odds that a tsunami is going to happen while you are at home and able to get into the thing rather than being at work, shopping, etc??). I'm just saying that these aren't going to end up with you starving to death because you were washed out to sea.

engleberg11@ said...

Anderson shelters saved a lot of Brits in WWII. I don't know if these things work, but I bet something like them would.

Will said...

A brief search for those covered lifeboats shows them to typically be designed for 60-150 occupants. Diesel engines can move them at 6 knots.

So, bit large for just one family. Weight ~10k lbs loaded for the small one. I suspect the shrouded props might be short lived in a tsunami debris field.

I suspect the survive-ability might be lower for the boat, depending on the conditions encountered. Maybe pods in the lifeboat? (belt and suspenders approach)

Aesop said...

Pity copyright prevents calling them what they are:

Tide Pods.

Tip your waitresses; try the veal; I'm here all week.

They're just toys for those with more money than brains.
I would only buy one from a manufacturer who'd ride one over Niagara Falls to demonstrate its worthiness.

$60 - 3 day backpack
$2 - Map of nearby area
$1 - highlighter to mark high ground, and all buildings above 5 stories, all of which will survive a tsunami with relative ease.

Just saved $13,437.

As Ron White noted with hurricanes, the problem in a tsunami isn't that the ocean water is rushing in at 50MPH, it's what the ocean water is rushing in at 50 MPH.

So anything less than a light cruiser isn't enough ship, and it's rather outside of most peoples' budgets.

Instead I'd like to see how much blimp and helium you could buy for $13.5K, but at any rate, if I could afford to live close enough to the ocean to worry about tsunamis,...I wouldn't.

Smith Family Farmstead said...

I would need 4 of them for my family. For that price I could almost afford property in the mountains

Paul, Dammit! said...

I used to dread exercising the covered lifeboats. Once a quarter we had to take a lifeboat for a quick run. A mate at the wheel and an AB at each hatch for reconnecting the lifting rings.

We always got seasick, even the guys who never got seasick otherwise. A 5 minute run was enough.

A life pod like that, I'm not at all convinced that I'd survive. Aside from the watertight being airtight issue, I mean, trauma from bouncing around like the last coffee bean in the can just screams head injury to me.

Kristophr said...

I'd suggest spending that money on a home or apartment on high ground, and a dirt bike to get there.