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The next time the “big one” hits, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a steel-plated desk (complete with oxygen mask, food storage, flashlight, blanket and other amenities) nearby? Bainbridge Island-based desk manufacturer LifeGuard Structures is trying to make that a reality, touting an “earthquake-proof” desk that can withstand 1.2 million pounds of falling concrete, beams and other debris.

“We are about trying to prevent people from being injured or killed by flying objects and structural failure,” said founder Robert von Bereghy, a real estate developer  who came up with the idea while working in a brick building in San Diego in the early 1990s.

“I realized that there was no place for me to go, and I had no option for getting out of the building,” von Bereghy tells GeekWire. LifeGuard was founded in 2009, and the company is just now starting to market the desks to schools, hospitals and businesses. The 43-year-old entrepreneur said he has a verbal commitment from a Seattle law firm to install the desks, and other client talks are ongoing.

A LifeGuard desk

During the 2001 Nisqually quake, I hopped under my wooden desk at the Seattle P-I building (conveniently located on fill) and prayed that the ceiling wouldn’t come crashing down on me. With Lifeguard, if the roof collapsed, you’d actually have a better shot at survival.

That reassurance doesn’t come cheap. LifeGuard says that its basic model for corporate environments costs about $4,700, with custom models (including armor for ballistic protection) exceeding $10,000. The 11-person company also offers a school desk for $495 per student.

Von Bereghy calls the desks a “highly-engineered structure,” noting that they’ve undergone extensive testing at the University of Washington.

“They look simple, but the way they are designed, they are rather complex,” he says.

How much force can the desks take?

You could stack 14 Boeing 737 airplanes on top before it collapsed, von Bereghy boasts.

“It is a staggering amount of weight,” he says. “The design goal was, virtually any building that falls on the desk — the desk is stronger than the building.”

The company put its desks to the ultimate test last week, placing them inside a Naval Hospital in Oakland, California that was imploded. The desks emerged pretty much unscathed.  Watch the action here:

LifeGuard plans to display the desks next Tuesday in Tacoma at the Partners in Preparedness exhibition. (If an earthquake rattles the region maybe a few folks will be safe).  The company has two production facilities in Kitsap County, one in the Seattle area and another near Los Angeles.

The company has the capacity to handle large orders of as many as 200,000 desks. And von Bereghy said they can custom tailor desks to the needs of executives.

“If a CEO would like a beautiful custom, inlay that matches the yacht, or whatever, that’s not a problem,” he says. “We have people ready to make the most beautiful desk that you can imagine.”

But beauty doesn’t matter so much when an 8.0 temblor hits. In that case, von Bereghy said those inside the desk would have a much better chance of survival.

“You have to be able to live in that potentially for a week or two,” he said. “In the end, it will keep the building off of you.”

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