Wash. partners build an ultimate refuge

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By SUE VORENBERG

of The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

CAMAS, Wash. — If a tornado, earthquake or — perhaps in a parallel universe — tsunami were to suddenly hit Camas, an unusual-looking orange pod would do its job, Andy Lehto said, keeping him safe and even helping him signal for aid in the aftermath.

Lehto and two friends, Randy Harper and Neil Jackson, all from Camas, created the Rescue-Pod about a year ago after watching what happened during the 2004 Indian Ocean and 2011 Japanese tsunamis. And in the past few months, their device has been featured on national TV shows, including the History Channel’s Nov. 26 episode of “Invention USA.”

Harper, who did most of the inventing, said once inside the pod, “you’re basically in a big helmet. You’re in a hard shell, with an inflatable life vest around you, a locator beacon, a bilge pump and even some water and food.”

Pods can fit either two or four people, depending on design. Each has seats at the bottom with a five-point harness to keep passengers from shifting or banging against the walls.

The 250-pound pod, made from a modified spherical water tank sold by a Washougal company, is also extremely buoyant. The special bed liner keeps it floating upright, making it almost impossible to tip over, the three said.

The company is selling the two-man pod, outfitted, for $4,500 and the four-man pod, similarly outfitted, for $6,500, Jackson said.

The partners are hoping to ramp up production enough to sell 20-30 a month, possibly more.

“Everything we use to make these is local,” Harper said. “The furthest away we go for anything is the bed liner, and that’s made in Portland. The rest is here in Camas and Washougal.”

The eventual goal, if they can sell enough of them, is to hire more workers from Clark County and keep the production as local as possible, he said.

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