Coppock shelter

Kenneth Coppock with his failed storm shelter next to his home on Kirksey's Bend in Ohatchee.

OHATCHEE — Kenneth and Glenda Coppock had problems with water leaking into their underground storm shelter a few years ago, but they never thought water pressure would pry it out of the ground.

The fiberglass structure, a Life Pod FP-10 that cost the Coppocks $6,000 in 2016, seems to be in one piece, floating on its side in a muddy pool of water situated between the family home and the trailer where Kenneth’s brother, Jimmy, lives. Kenneth’s reckoning is that the cables anchoring the shelter to four concrete blocks broke after rusting for the last few years.

He held up the rusted, frayed end of one cable to make his point: “It’s not stainless steel.”

Kenneth, 75, believes the provided cables were the wrong kind. Glenda, 76, kept the installation instructions. They describe no further materials than the shed, four concrete slabs weighing 1,000 pounds each and cables of unspecified type to loop through anchors built into the shed. Kenneth said he poured the concrete himself, and had help installing the Life Pod from Wells and Wells, a septic installation and manufacture company in Anniston that sold the shelter.

A YouTube video produced by the manufacturer, Dougherty Manufacturing, in Edgewater, Fla., offers some encouragement for self-installation: “Life Pod shelters are permanently installed by certified professionals, or we will provide instructional videos to help you install your own pod.”

Attempts to contact a spokesperson for Dougherty Manufacturing by phone were unsuccessful Friday.

A spokesman for Wells and Wells said that his company purchased three identical Life Pods in 2014 and sold only one, which went to the Coppocks. After trying to fix leak issues in the unit a few times at the family’s request — both Kenneth and the spokesman said it was about 30 gallons in the bottom of the unit’s interior during one of two flooding incidents — Wells and Wells decided to not sell the remaining units, which cost a total of $9,800. They’re sitting in storage and will eventually be disposed of. The spokesman said the cables were shipped separate from the shelter units a day later.

Merry Hardy operates Lake Martin Storm Shelters, based in Alexander City, a company that sells Life Pod units. She said that Dougherty Manufacturing no longer sells the pods, but that when they sent units before, they sent them with plastic-coated, steel cables that resisted rust. She said that her company adds steel poles for reinforcement during installation, but the poles aren’t supplied by the manufacturer.

She said the only time she’s seen an underground shelter reemerge was also due to water pressure; in that instance huge rocks impeded the installation process and allowed more water saturation around the shelter.

“We pulled it out of the ground, brought in a great, big machine and pulled those giant rocks out, backfilled it with gravel and filled it in with concrete,” Hardy said.

Ernst Kiesling, executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association in Lubbock, Texas, said that “ballast issues” like those of the Coppock shelter aren’t especially common, but they do happen. He said he couldn’t comment on the specific shelter unit or the state of the cables that anchored it, but he did speak generally, saying that if cables holding a unit did deteriorate, water pressure would easily force a shelter up.

“It doesn’t have to be underwater. Just ground saturation is going to give the upward force,” Kiesling said. “It typically happens soon after the installation before the ground settles much.”

He said that groups like his association vet manufacturing standards on shelters and certify that “the design was by a professional who has designed against this kind of failure,” but that the certification is an optional one and includes a fee.

The Coppocks said that their only goal is to make sure potential buyers do their research and know exactly what they’re getting and how it’s going to work and stand up to the elements, something Hardy also encouraged.

“People need to know what they’re getting,” Kenneth said.

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560. 

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