In post-Japan quake & tsunami era, Noah offers emergency shelter

How would you survive an earthquake and tsunami? Japan-based Cosmo Power has one solution -- a pod that floats and fits a family of four.

San Francisco had a rude awakening this week: a 4.0-magnitude earthquake, around 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

It didn't actually disturb my sleep (blame sleep-deprivation), but it did serve as a wake-up call. For years, I've talked about putting together an earthquake kit -- every self-respecting San Franciscan should own one, really. And as if the Earth moving wasn't enough of a nudge, I also interviewed a businessman in Japan for a SmartPlanet Minute (our 60-second audio feature, which is available on iTunes) marking the one-year anniversary of the massive 9.0 Japan earthquake and tsunami which struck on March 11, 2011. Shoji Tanaka is the president of Cosmo Power and inventor of a pod-like shelter named Noah, after the builder of the Biblical ark.

My phone interview with Mr. Tanaka got off to a bit of a rocky start (apparently Tokyo traffic was bumper-to-bumper), but once he arrived at the Cosmo Power offices, I asked him (through an interpreter) how the idea for Noah came to him. As Tanaka puts it, Japan is no stranger to natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes...the island nation has seen it all. With each disaster, Tanaka thought harder about a way to survive, until he hit upon the spherical design of Noah.

Noah looks like a giant tennis ball crossed with a submarine. It's bright yellow and completely seaworthy, thanks to an enforced fiberglass hull. Noah comes in two sizes -- a 4-foot diameter version accommodates four people, a 5-foot model fits six. As Tanaka's interpreter pointed out, Noah is sized for smaller Japanese frames, not the larger ones found on American soil. Understandably, the nation that invented super-sizing may need a roomier model.

Passengers sit near the bottom of the pod, creating a low center of gravity, so Noah should always remain upright. But if the waves get a little choppy, a steel bar running through the middle of the pod functions as a grab bar. So I know what you're wondering, and no, there is no toilet. Why? Because it's intended to serve as a temporary shelter, not a long-term one. So you may want to hit the loo before you board. The lack of indoor plumbing doesn't appear to be stopping sales, though. Cosmo Power has sold 1,000 Noahs so far and receives new orders daily.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some earthquake kit shopping to do.

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