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Lightning Safety Planning
Lightning kills more people each year in the United States than any other weather event, except flooding. On average, lightning kills 73 people annually. Unfortunately, many injuries and deaths are due to misinformation and inappropriate behavior before and during a thunderstorm. To attain 100% lightning safety is not possible. Pre-planning and training can provide a high level of safety. Questions must be answered and plans established before the thunderstorm event. Based on NFPA 780 and the research from the Lightning Safety Institute here are a few areas that may assist our members.
Outdoor Shelters and Areas (i.e., gazebos, guard shacks, picnic pavilions, etc.) Lightning safety organizations state that rain and sun shelters at golf courses, parks and athletic facilities, campgrounds, lakes, beaches, and similar locations are often not safe from lightning. Such structures should be identified as such with signs. The National Lightning Safety Institute suggests wording similar to: "This is not a lightning-safe structure." Identifying and advertising near-by lightning safe structures may be advisable. Seek guidance from your solicitor on the wording of any warning sign.
Lightning awareness and education signs may also be provided at entrances to outdoor facilities. The signs may indicate what structures are appropriate as lightning shelters, areas to avoid such as trees and flagpoles, any warning signals such as sirens, and other lightning safety tips.
Vehicles can be used for shelter in the event of lightning. Windows should be rolled up and occupants should avoid contact with metal surfaces.
Outdoor Events and Activities (i.e., sporting events, parades, beaches, fairs, concerts, etc.) Lightning is an important cause of weather-related injury and death and is often underrated. Sponsors of outdoor events must take lightning and other weather events seriously. The National Lightning Safety Institute, in conjunction with the American National Red Cross, NOAA and the Little League Baseball and Softball Association recommend that every municipality require a written “Lightning Safety Plan” be submitted at the beginning of each season from organizations that use municipal fields. This same recommendation should be extended to any event in which the municipality is involved. A Lightning Safety Plan should contain at a minimum:
- Designated weather watcher(s) with the authority to stop or postpone the event:
- Weather watchers should be monitoring multiple sources of up to date weather information.
- Consider developing a criteria for suspension and resumption of activities
- A chain of command
- A communication plan and alerting system or procedure
- Designated safe areas and lightning-safe shelters, access routes, and estimates of the advanced warning time to evacuate large groups of people
- Strategies to disseminate information to attendees and participants such as PA announcements, flyers, posters, advertisements in programs, etc.
Guidelines for Outdoor Workers (DPW, Utility, Parks and Recreation)
Storms are always a threat to employees who work outdoors. They bring winds and rain that may topple trees, down power lines, flood roadways, and erode trenches. However, lightning is the most serious killer of outdoor workers. Employers must have a plan and educate workers on lightning safety. Here are some guidelines to assist in preventing injuries and deaths from lightning:
Keep an eye on the weather throughout the day. Stay tuned to the radio, local TV, and weather websites for updates on the weather. Be prepared to adjust work assignments if thunderstorms are forecasted or develop.
- Do not rely on seeing approaching storm clouds. Lightning strikes can extend for 6-8 miles from the cloud, further than can often be seen. If you see lightning, you are in potential danger.
- Do not rely on hearing approaching thunder. Sound dissipates quickly in air. If you hear thunder, you are in potential danger
If lightning threatens, seek an appropriate indoor shelter. But be aware many gazebos, sheds, picnic shelters, and the like are not effective lightning protectors. Enclosed (hard-top) work vehicles can be used for shelter. Roll the windows up and avoid touching metal surfaces. Do not use the two-way radio.
- Do not lie flat on the ground
- Remove metal watches & jewelry.
- Avoid holding antennae-like objects such as umbrellas, tools, etc.
- Avoid concrete surfaces; it is a good conductor of electricity
- Do not stand in groups. Keep several yards between workers
- Do not stand near flagpoles, trees, goal posts,metal fences, antennae, or monuments. The energy from a lightning strike to a tree can travel up to 60 feet.
- Avoid being the tallest object in the area.
- Do not fuel vehicles or work around open flammable liquid containers
If you feel the hair on your arms or head stand on end, or you feel a tingling sensation, you are in a highly charged area and lightning is about to strike. If you can not immediately enter a safe structure, assume the ‘Lightning Crouch.’ Position. This may not prevent you from being struck, but significantly increases your chance for survival.
- Drop to the crouch position and tuck elbows close to the body.
- Bend forward keeping your head very low to discourage a strike to the head.
- Place your hands over your ears & close your eyes to minimize potential injury from a near-by strike.
- Rest your body weight mostly on the balls of your feet.
- Touching your feet together minimizes the effects of step voltage from a near by strike to the ground.
- Do not allow any other body parts to touch the ground.
- Maintain this position until the tingling sensation dissipates and your hair no longer stands upright, indicating that the electrical charge has been dissipated.
Lightning strikes are still possible for 30 minutes after the last lightning flash.