Lightning awareness: Protecting your person and your property

ST. GEORGE – Lightning Safety Awareness Week fell at the end of June, but here in Southern Utah those bright dramatic bolts through the sky are particularly visible as summer progresses. For many in Dixie, the proposition that lightning does strike people is not hard to accept as many remember two teens struck at Snow Canyon High School in October 2010.

According to the National Weather Service, there are about 25 million lightning flashes every year. “Each of those 25 million flashes is a potential killer,” the website states. “While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. Hundreds of people are permanently injured by lightning strikes each year.”

“People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms,” the NWS states, “including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more.”

Protecting your person, knowing how to aid a lightning strike victim, and protecting your personal property, homes and businesses are things we often can do. Here are some pointers:

Protecting your person:

The mnemonic for lightning safety is:  “When thunder roars, go indoors!”

The NWS identifies safe shelters and unsafe shelters:

• A safe shelter from lightning is either a substantial building or an enclosed metal vehicle.

• A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, and has plumbing or wiring. Examples include a home, school, church, hotel, office building or shopping center. Once inside, stay away from showers, sinks, bathtubs, and electronic equipment such as stoves, radios, corded telephones and computers.

Unsafe buildings include carports, open garages, covered patios, picnic shelters, beach pavilions, golf shelters, tents of any kinds, baseball dugouts, sheds and greenhouses.

• A safe vehicle is any fully enclosed metal-topped vehicle such as a hard-topped car, minivan, bus, truck, etc. While inside a safe vehicle, do not use electronic devices such as radio communications during a thunderstorm. If you drive into a thunderstorm, slow down and use extra caution. If possible, pull off the road into a safe area. Do not leave the vehicle during a thunderstorm.

Unsafe vehicles include golf carts, convertibles, motorcycles, or any open cab vehicle.

For additional guidance please visit the NWS website on Lightning Safety.

Lightning victims:

The NWS offers this advice:

• If someone is struck by lighting, they may need immediate medical attention.

• Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to touch.

• Call 911 and monitor the victim. Start CPR or use an Automated External Defibrillator if needed.

Protecting your property:

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety suggests home and business properties can be protected in several ways:

“Lightning strikes are one of the major sources of external power surges that can severely damage electronic equipment and cause fires – either of which can be a huge disruption to a family or business,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president & CEO. “Fortunately, relatively simple, inexpensive steps can be taken to substantially reduce the chances of lightning-related destruction and interruptions.”

For lightning protection, a whole-house/building surge protector is the best starting point for reducing the risk of damage. The utility company may provide and install whole-building surge protection systems. If not, consult a licensed electrician about having one installed.

It is important to note that a whole house/building surge protector will not protect against a direct lightning strike. Lightning protection systems are designed to protect a structure and provide a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of a lightning bolt. The system works by receiving the strike and routing it harmlessly into the ground thus discharging the dangerous electrical event. IBHS recommends that lightning protection systems be installed by a UL listed installer and meet the requirements of NFPA 780 and Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) Standards.

In addition to whole-building surge protection, IBHS strongly recommends the following:

• Unplug electronic equipment. It is the most reliable means of protecting that equipment from a power surge.

• Know the important difference between a surge suppressor and a power strip. A power strip plugs into your wall outlet and allows you to plug in multiple electronic devices. However, a power strip does not protect equipment from being damaged by a power spike. A surge protector also gives the user the ability to plug in multiple electronic devices, but it also serves another very important function in that it also protects your electronic devices from a power spike.

• Connect telephone, cable/satellite TV and network lines to a surge suppressor.

• Make sure the surge suppressor has an indicator light so you know it is working properly.

• Ensure the surge suppressor has been tested to UL 1449.

• Purchase a surge suppressor with a Joule rating of over 1,000. The Joule rating typically ranges from 200 up to several thousand – the higher the number the better.

• Look for a surge suppressor with a clamping voltage rating (voltage at which the protector will conduct the electricity to ground) between 330 v, which is typical, to 400 v.

• Purchase a surge suppressor with a response time less than 1 nanosecond.

• Do not cut corners. You don’t want to protect a $1,000 television or computer system with a $10 surge protector, for $25 and up you can provide much better protection.

• Have a licensed electrician or home/building inspector review the power, telephone, electrical and cable/satellite TV connections to your building. Have them check to make sure that you have adequate grounding of the power line connection and your power distribution panel. All of the utilities should enter the structure within 10 feet of the electrical service entrance ground wire and be bonded to that grounding point.

For additional guidance, please visit DisasterSafety.org/lightning.

 

Email: jkuzmanic@stgnews.com

Twitter: @JoyceKuzmanic

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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