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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.

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