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 ~ National Lightning Safety Institute ~

General Interest #5

Lightning Protection: New Myths & Old Realities

Letter to Editor (Submit to your local newspaper)
by Richard Kithil, President & CEO, NLSI

Here in Colorado we have been reading recent newspaper articles elsewhere about lightning casualty incidents. In the name of safety we offer a few observations about the lightning problem.

First some general comments about lightning. It has its own agenda. It is entirely capricious, random, and unpredictable. Man's attempts to fit lightning into a convenient box, with Codes and Standards to describe its behavior, are a best guess. The system of conventional lightning rods as commonly employed does represent the best method for providing a preferred pathway to ground.

Second, lightning safety for group or large scale outdoor events is very difficult - maybe impossible - to accomplish. Injuries at a June 1998 rock concert at RFK stadium in Baltimore are a good example. Some 35,000 people were there. Lightning rods were there. Still, some 13 people were badly injured by incoming lightning. In July 1998 in Las Vegas NV, five firefighters were injured when lightning struck their fire truck. At a soccer match in the Republic of the Congo (October 1998) 11 members of the team were killed by lightning.

Third, the myths about lightning persist: LIGHTNING NEVER STRIKES TWICE (it hits the Empire State Building about 25 times a year.) RUBBER TIRES WILL INSULATE ME FROM LIGHTNING (it has traveled miles through space…a few inches of rubber mean nothing at all.) LIGHTNING CAN BE PREVENTED (unconfirmed/sheer advertising.) FIRST STRIKES FROM LIGHTNING CAN BE PREDICTED (unconfirmed/sheer advertising.) NEW HIGH-TECH TYPES OF LIGHTNING RODS CAN CONTROL LIGHTNING (unconfirmed/sheer advertising.)

So how to achieve lightning safety? It is a personal decision. Your decision. At the first sign of lightning or thunder, seek shelter. Good shelters are substantial buildings or fully enclosed metal vehicles. We suggest you remain in shelter for 30 minutes after the last observed thunder or lightning. "If you can hear it, clear it. If you can see it, flee it."

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National Lightning Safety Institute
Providing expert training and consulting for lightning problems