Washington woman buys tsunami survival capsule -- first in U.S.

Jeanne Johnson of Long Beach Peninsula, Washington bought this two-person tsunami survival capsule for $13,500 since she lives in a tsunami zone. (KATU Photo)

Jeanne Johnson loves living at the beach. She moved to the Washington coast only a few months ago, a little earlier than she originally planned.

"This is my dream spot,” she says. “I was going to move to the beach when I retired, but then I got cancer last year and I thought, like so many people do, how much time do you really have left?"

So when the two-time cancer survivor told her children about her plans, they expressed concern about her living in a tsunami zone.

"They said, 'I know you want to do this Mom, I know it's your dream, but can you just do us a favor and take precautions?' So that's what I'm doing. I'm going to try and survive for the people who love me."

Jeanne, who works in the tech industry and has been a successful businesswoman on her own, began to do some research. Like most of us, she knew the damage a tsunami could cause from seeing the devastation in Japan. She is familiar with living in disaster prone areas. She spent many years in New Orleans and evacuated a family member from Hurricane Katrina. Now she’s coming to the coast after 30 years spent in Kansas sheltering in place from tornadoes.

Through her research and speaking to experts, she determined that it would take her nearly 20 minutes to get to higher ground if a wave was coming. That’s too much time. So she settled on a solution that no one else in the United States has perhaps even heard of, a tsunami survival capsule.

The pod is the brainchild of Julian Sharpe and his team in Mukilteo, Washington. Sharpe and his engineers and designers at Tsunami Capsule, LLC had been developing two-person and larger capsules for sale to prefectures in Japan for their citizens and even schools. Johnson convinced them to sell her one. She’s now the first person in the U.S. to own one of these capsules. Hers is a two-person version.

Inside it’s a tight squeeze. There are two go-kart seats, 40 liters of water that also acts as ballast for the ball to keep it upright in water. There’s also dry food, air tanks and more.

She knows the $13,500 price tag is not for everyone. She even financed her capsule through the local bank.

"And they were a little concerned about doing that for the first time, but they all have family members and friends who live in the tsunami zone, so they understand the need," Jeanne said.

For now, she and the capsule have kind of become local celebrities, but she says some neighbors are seriously looking into the possibility of getting their own. Just Jeanne and her dog fit in the capsule now, but she says she’ll consider upgrading to a larger model in the future.

And speaking of a future, she sees one for the capsules, too.

"I could see someday this becoming as common as a fire escape on a multistory building," she said.

While she hopes she’ll never have to use the capsule, she says having it gives her piece of mind to enjoy life at the beach.

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