Pixel Tracker

Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 8:06 am | Fair 47º


Life Cubes a Square Deal for American Red Cross Chapter in Santa Barbara

Portable airframe structures pop up as promising shelter solution in disaster response

For entrepreneurs, sometimes the best ideas spring out of nowhere. That’s exactly how Michael Conner drew inspiration for his Life Cube, an innovative inflatable shelter that is quickly becoming an important part of disaster preparedness and response.

At a Wednesday morning fundraiser for the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter, Conner described the genesis of his idea, which was born out of a TV news report on a long-ago earthquake in Pakistan. Describing the dire conditions in remote mountain villages, the reporter speculated that “many of these villagers will die tonight” because of a lack of shelter against the freezing elements.

“There has got to be a better way,” thought Conner, who set to work on a plan the next morning to provide what he calls “psychological first aid.”

The result is Life Cube, a portable airframe structure that allows first responders to establish shelters and even mobile command centers — complete with critical communications and medical equipment — in about five minutes.

The Life Cubes, now in their third generation, start with a shipping container and platform made from durable plastic pallets. The platform’s hard surface, 6 inches off the ground, enhances interior insulation and serves as an anchor for the structure so stakes and tiedowns are not necessary to stabilize it. The inflatable canopy is a military-grade, Siemens polyester fabric that is both tear-proof and fire-retardant. The canopy has four independent chambers with cross-over beams that inflate simultaneously. Three doorways provide a convenient way to zip Life Cubes together to form even larger structures, including field hospitals. Among the optional equipment are electrical systems with 12-volt batteries, solar panels, and propane stoves and heaters.

Each 600-pound Life Cube unfolds from a shipping container that includes integrated steel hoops, which allow one person to maneuver the equipment over rough terrain.

The canopies are built by the Patten Co., which has been making life rafts and other inflatable gear since 1939. Conner’s mention of the life raft drew a question from the event’s host, philanthropist Larry Crandell, who asked if the Lake Worth, Fla., company also made the inflatable rafts aboard military aircraft.

When told it did, Crandell replied that he had used the product previously.

“You might have heard me tell this story before,” Crandell joked to his audience, “but I was a bombardier in World War II and I made 35 takeoffs, but only 34 landings. We ditched in the Adriatic Sea once and were it not for that inflatable life raft, today’s gathering would be much shorter.”

While the canopies are made in Florida, the rest of the Life Cubes are manufactured in Goleta, which provided an opportunity for Conner to outline his vision for the company and the reasons why his startup is located here. A sincerely caring, generous community is important to him and to his team, he said.

“When people find out we make our products here,” he said, “they often respond, ‘Goleta? Are you crazy?’ But look around this room, and the human resources that are here this morning. I prefer to run with this crowd.”

Around 50 people attended the event at Moby Dick Restaurant on Stearns Wharf, including Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, Goleta City Councilman Michael Bennett, business and civic leaders, first responders and Louise Kolbert, CEO of the local American Red Cross.

Kolbert thanked Conner and the Life Cube team for providing her organization with five brand-new Life Cubes for use here and abroad.

“We are grateful to Life Cube for their efforts to help prepare Santa Barbara County for disaster,” she said. “As a nonprofit organization, the American Red Cross depends on the community for donations of time and financial support to continually provide disaster preparedness and response services to everyone, free of charge.”

At the event, Randy Weiss of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust presented Kolbert with a check from the bank for $2,500. Selden Edwards, author of The Little Book, donated $500.

Click here to make a donation to the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter through givezooks!

Click here for more information on Life Cube or click here for a PDF flier about the Life Cube shelters.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >