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PODS offers temporary shelter

Latest product came about after stories of hurricane survivors living in firm’s storage containers.

Suzanne Christman, of Pinellas County Economic Development, enters one of PODS’s shelters during a demonstration Wednesday morning in Clearwater, Fla.

AP photos

PODS employee Chuck Frame sets up a PODS Shelter during a demonstration Wednesday morning in Clearwater, Fla. PODS is building a shelter for hurricane victims to live in on a temporary basis.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — PODS founder Pete Warhurst recalls hearing stories about desperate hurricane survivors taking up temporary residence in the company’s storage containers after monster storms in 2004 and 2005.

That planted the seed for the Clearwater-based company’s latest prototype: An air-conditioned PODS unit outfitted with beds, a refrigerator, stove, bathroom, generator and other comforts designed to shelter up to five people for months.

The 8-by-16-foot unit, rolled out Wednesday, looks from the outside like one of the company’s portable storage boxes, except for the people-sized door.

And like a storage unit, it’s delivered on the back of a truck and can be put down almost anywhere. The inside, though, has the feel of a decent-sized motor home.

“In about 10 minutes time, we can have a family with a place to sleep for the night,” said Warhurst, a former firefighter who started PODS — Portable On Demand Storage — in 1998 and turned it into a market leader.

The PODS emergency housing unit, outfitted by Warsaw, Ind.-based motor home manufacturer R-Vision, is only a prototype. But the PODS people are talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Florida emergency management officials about ordering them to have on hand.

PODS would then store them and deploy them as needed from their many warehouses.

“They are suitable to sustain people. They are not elaborate where (residents) are not going to be motivated to get out of them,” Warhurst said, referring to FEMA’s troubles getting storm refugees to move out of temporary trailer parks.

Roy Dunn, disaster housing chief for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said public money isn’t available to buy a bunch of the PODS shelters right away, but the state is looking for ways to incorporate them into its disaster plans. He said he is urging local emergency managers and social service agencies to look at them, too.

“I think it’s a great tool to put in the toolbox,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a product that needs to be seriously looked at as a resource.”

A FEMA representative didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Depending on extras, the shelter units cost between $10,000 and $13,000 to build.

Warhurst said there are no immediate plans to have company-owned units available for rent to individuals.

PODS Enterprises Inc. deployed thousands of its traditional units in the aftermath of the 2004 and 2005 storms, mostly for storage and salvage.

Its franchises around the country also provided units for collection of donations for storm victims.

William “Doug” Douglass, manager of planning and preparedness for the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross, said he was impressed with the company’s disaster preparedness efforts.

“Certainly these guys have risen to the challenge and put a lot of dollars into it,” Douglass said.

Privately owned, PODS is franchised in 47 states, Australia and Canada. It has 123,000 units in use and has served more than 800,000 customers.

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