To the uninitiated, filling sandbags the old-fashioned way seems to
work just fine. A shovel, two people and a bag -- how could it get any
simpler? But for emergency workers scrambling to hold back floodwaters,
"sacking" bags is both time-consuming and manpower-intensive.
Product gaining reputation in flood control
Architect Matthew Piner saw potential for what he calls "the
elegant solution" in a handheld scoop device that would allow one
person to quickly and easily fill a sandbag. After two years of sweat
equity and design modifications, he now has the "GoBagger", a
unit gaining a reputation in the flood control business as the first
worthwhile low-tech improvement on the shovel-and-bag method.
Made of lightweight (and recyclable) molded polyethylene, the
GoBagger looks like a curvy yellow trash can with no bottom and two
vertically-stacked handholds on one side. Using it involves sliding a
standard burlap or plastic sandbag over the bottom of the GoBagger,
gripping both the bag and the unit with the lower hand, gripping the top
of the unit with the upper hand, scooping sand into the unit, lifting it
to channel sand into the bag and releasing the bag. This smooth,
intuitive process takes only one load of sand per bag instead of the
traditional three to four shovels.
Biggest advantage is freeing up people
"It works real excellent," Bill Hampton, general manager of
Levee District 1 in Yuba City, CA, said. "The biggest benefit is
freeing up people. With a GoBagger, it takes only one person to fill a
sandbag. So if you have 10 people, you free up five to help place the
bags or watch for new breaks. It’s faster too. One person can get
about four bags filled in a minute -- one dip of the GoBagger and you’re
done. With two people working a shovel and a sandbag, you fill about one
and half bags a minute."
Hampton’s district is in Sutter County, right next to Yuba County
-- the two counties with the most miles of levees in the state. "We
could have definitely used GoBaggers in 1997," Hampton said.
That year, a record flow of water came down the Yuba, Feather and
Sacramento rivers. "Even with 350 people toiling, it was difficult
to hold the levees," he recalled. "All I had to think about
were 50,000 people’s lives. And once we got them evacuated, there were
still billions of dollars worth of assets."
While Hampton’s group managed to keep their levees intact, Yuba
County was not so lucky, suffering loss of life and property.
When Piner first started investigating the efficacy of his
sandbagging idea, there were already several low-tech devices out there.
In talking to emergency agency representatives, Piner found they all had
drawbacks—moving parts that break, bulkiness, two-person operation,
shoveling, or difficult operation. He found that his main competition
was not other sandbagging devices but the traditional bag and shovel
method. That freed him up to come up with a totally original idea.
‘Take purest idea and give it form…’
"I was interested in something simple," Piner said. "I am
an architect and a contractor. Everything I’ve been doing in my
business for the last 15 to 20 years is always about problem solving --
the simplest, most direct way to do something. Take the purest idea, the
best solution and give it form."
When Piner got the idea for a one person scoop, he made a model out
of construction paper, enlarged it to a paper pattern, cut and riveted a
sheet metal prototype, and found it worked. "The problem was how to
attach the bag," Piner remembered. "Finally I realized the
best way to hold the bag on the device was simply grabbing it with your
hand, because the hand is probably the most versatile tool there
Made of plastic for safety and light-weight
Following a patent search, Piner began researching the manufacturing
process. "I knew I wanted it made out of plastic to be safe and
After an industrial designer (Avatar Design of Sacramento) refined
the GoBagger design, Piner found a rotational molding company (