By M.L. Dehm <i>For HBJ </i>
A Mukilteo company that already manufactures two-person tsunami survival capsules is launching efforts to produce and test the prototype for their 10-person model.
Survival Capsule develops survival solutions for tsunamis and other natural disasters.
It was the brainchild of founder Julian Sharpe in 2010 and is tied to his other company, IDEA International (Innovative Design Engineering and Analysis), an aerospace and engineering consulting firm.
“I’m very impatient and I want to get this going,” Sharpe said. “There are a lot of people who could benefit from it.”
In February, the two-person capsule made its debut at the Yokohama Disaster Preparedness Expo in Japan. The company is now taking orders for that model and is marketing the product.
Since that show, there has been even more interest in a larger version of the capsule that could serve institutions such as businesses, hospitals and schools. The company has had many inquiries, most of these from urban areas of Japan that want to prepare for a disaster such as the 2011 tsunami.
That tsunami was a wake-up call for many Japanese local governments and businesses. The area where the 2011 tsunami hit was highly agricultural.
In more populated areas, equally exposed to a tsunami threat, death tolls could conceivably reach as high as 325,000 in a similar event.
“Statistics at the moment show that there is 70 percent chance that, in next 30 years, a tsunami will occur that will make Sendai look quite small,” Sharpe said.
The federal government in Japan recognized this and are planning for it, he explained.
They’re now providing local prefectures with the funding to mitigate their own topographical risks. Some areas, for example, may be able to evacuate quickly due to the lay of the land. But others may have little to no warning and few means of escape. Vertical evacuation was useless in some areas in 2011 due to the extreme height of the waves.
Many people were swept away from the tops of buildings and other structures. Local prefectures are now trying to find a solution and that is something that Sharpe is ready to offer them.
“As we stand at the moment the survival capsule is being seriously considered,” Sharpe said. “We have the two-person ready for production and three kits have already arrived in Nagoya.”
These capsule kits were assembled at different manufacturing sites in different prefectures. Initial reaction from various experts and officials has been extremely positive and serious sales discussions are currently underway.
The survival capsule is not intended solely for a tsunami.
It can also be used as shelter against the high winds and tidal surges of a typhoon or hurricane. Another possible use is for emergency evacuation on oil rigs.
The product is metallic with thermal insulation. People often don’t realize that deluged debris fields can catch on fire. Sharpe believes his aerospace and engineering background has helped him prepare his product to cover that risk and others.
“We understand the thermal characteristics of our capsule,” he said. “In the aerospace world, you think of all the eventualities that might happen and you plan for them. We’ve tried to apply a similar methodology here.”
The surface of the two-man capsule has been tested at 3,000 degrees. It features air vents that can be opened and closed. There are air canisters in case the capsule is submerged. Pressure release valves allow for excess air to be released when vents are closed and air tanks are being used.
The door to the capsule has been designed with an option to fall away rather than open outward in case debris is blocking the door. There are tether points at both the top and bottom for either permanent tethering on a site or to deploy a rescue winch.
Water and first aid supplies can be stored inside the capsule. Technically, it could also be used as an emergency shelter for a few days after a catastrophic event to help to take some of the pressure off of rescue services.
“There is a low maintenance requirement which pleases the Japanese government,’’ Sharpe said. Key maintenance involves replacing door and vent seals every 10 years. The seals that are made by an Oregon company and take about five minutes to change and $35 to buy,.
There has also been a lot of interest in the survival capsules from private citizens. The company has already set up an order list for anyone who would like to purchase one for their personal use. The company has been fielding inquiries from Florida as well as up and down the West Coast and other areas of hurricane and tsunami risk.
“We’ve finally had our U.S. patent approved. Not pending but approved,” Sharpe added with satisfaction. He is also pleased that the company is scheduled to be featured in an upcoming issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.
But Sharpe’s main interest at the moment is to get moving on the 10-person capsule. He’s launched a crowdfunding effort to work on the prototype. The faster it is done, the faster it can be deployed and possibly save lives.
People who donate can claim perks that are equal in value to their donation. For example, if a person donates $10 they can claim a gift card for somewhere such as Starbucks or Subway in the value of $10.
“For people who can’t afford much, $10 is a good contribution but they essentially get their $10 back,” Sharpe said.
Perks are available up to $100 in value. The Survival Capsule crowdfunding campaign runs until noon on June 7 at https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/6hvJd/ab/61mkb2.