Five takeaways from the 86th annual Lightning Protection Conference

During the first week of March, the United Lightning Protection Association (ULPA) and the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) hosted its 86th annual conference in Singer Island, FL. Lightning protection professionals from various states across the country came together for three days of professional development, continuing education and networking. The gathering of industry members and experts—from product manufacturers and system installers—to scientists and code authorities, explored a wide range of lightning protection topics. For those of you who were unable to attend the 2018 ULPA/LPI Lightning Protection Conference, I’ve compiled five takeaways that sparked conversation and interaction. For those of you who were there, here’s a chance to relive some of the enlightening highlights.

1.   Compliance matters in all matters of LPS

Compliance is not an option for safety, and lightning protection system (LPS) materials, methods and installations need to comply with the NFPA 780 Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems. A primary implementing document for the IEC 62305 (International Electrotechnical Commission) series of documents, NFPA 780 also provides the foundation for numerous specialized lightning protection documents for organizations such as the DOD, DOE, NASA and the FAA. Prior to the development of the IEC series, NFPA 780 was routinely referenced and used worldwide. NFPA 780 serves as the basis for LPI-175 Standard of Practice for the Design-Installation-Inspection of Lightning Protection Systems, which is commonly used by LPI-certified designers and installers. The standard addresses LPS installation requirements for structures, watercraft, wind turbines, industrial stacks and other special occupancies and construction in the marketplace. New information and sections are added to NFPA 780 in conjunction with a three-year review process.

“The standard is yours, so help make it better,” urged conference presenter, Christine Porter, chair of the NFPA Technical Committee on Lightning Protection.

For industry members who want to be part of the NFPA review process, the First Draft Reports for Standards in the Annual 2019 revision cycle are available for review and public comments.

2Data applications have changed in recent years and the SPD market is evolving to keep pace

Applications for surge protective devices (SPDs) have very different individual prerequisites for the systems they are designed to protect. Unfortunately, that can be problematic in an era where technology and building systems are rapidly changing. Lightning can initiate a domino effect path of transient overvoltage which can disrupt, degrade and damage multiple electronic systems and connected equipment, making the correct application for SPDs an essential component of the LPS network. If you attended the conference workshop presented by Greg Martinjak with Erico/Pentair, you likely learned about applications for “Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, Type 4 and Type 5” SPDs and surge suppressors. But, if you missed the conference or Martinjak’s presentation and want to learn more about the intended use for SPDs for LPS in compliance with UL 96A, here’s a link you’ll want to check-out.

3.   The lightning problem related to CSST has not been solved

While safety standard compliant LPS provides proven and effective protection against a leading weather threat, continued litigation and unknowns about CSST (a flexible gas piping found in millions of U.S. homes and commercial structures), are a concern for the industry and the public at large. Last spring, LPI advised its members to disclaim CSST in very clear terms in work proposals and documents, due to its lightning susceptibility problems and the lack of verification data. Concerned by refusals of CSST manufacturers to conduct or release findings of testing, the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) recently commissioned its own testing to investigate potential safety impacts of typical household electrical current (120 volts) on CSST.

“We are praising NASFM for looking beyond the risk of CSST when lightning is present,” said Becky Teel, spokesperson for the Brennen Teel Foundation, and a presenter at the 2018 ULPA/LPI Lightning Protection Conference. Teel shared that she and her husband Ken, created a Foundation in the name of their son, Brennen Chase Teel, who was 31 years old when he was killed on August 24, 2012 in a Lubbock, Texas home, where the installation, bonding and grounding of CSST was deemed “proper” according to the product manufacturer. Teel explained that Brennen died in an explosive fire as a result of the puncture of CSST—a failure that was lightning-induced. Since Brennen’s death, news outlets have continued to share incidents of similar failures that are occurring all over the country; threatening lives and property.

According to Teel, data collected in the NASFM lab testing has determined serious deficiencies with the so-called “new lightning-resistant” CSST and revealed that it is actually more susceptible to failure when it comes into direct contact with the electrical system or some other metallic object that has become energized. The new test results commissioned by NASFM of 120 volt household current testing on CSST and Black Iron Gas Piping can be viewed at http://cssttesting.org/.

4.   Non-conventional LPS (still) isn’t backed by testing and science to validate performance

The need for LPS to comply with U.S. safety standards cannot be overstated. Products known in the marketplace as “Early Streamer Emission” (ESE) air terminals, “dissipation array systems” (DAS), charge transfer systems (CTS) do not comply with NFPA 780 and have been the subject of criticism by independent lightning experts and renowned meteorologists and scientists.

A panel of lightning experts, Dr. Bill Rison, Dr. Carlos Mata and Dr. Dustin Hill, led a conference presentation and discussion about disconnects between science and non-conventional lightning protection systems. One takeaway: “Science is a beautiful gift to humanity; we should not distort it.” A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. (Let’s listen to the scientists!)

The Scientific Committee of the International Conference on Lightning Protection (ICLP) has posted advisements “against production, marketing and use of such systems before their claimed effects have been verified and the results generally agreed upon by the international scientific community.” ICLP has also posted scientific papers and opinions for review on the topic on the ILDC website.

5.   The LPS industry is stronger than ever

Allow me to cite a few reasons:

* The expansion and growth of the LPI-IP inspection and certification program (300% growth rate since its beginnings in 2011 and a 44% increase in user base in 2017), which continues to meet industry needs for LPS quality control and service.

* The construction market, consumers and partner organizations are increasingly relying on LPI as the go-to resource for the most accurate and up-to-date information about lightning protection and safety standard compliant system requirements.

* Promethean ideas like the “LPU” (check it out!), seek to “educate students on the concepts of lightning protection systems and introduce them to a career path in the lightning protection industry.”

* Interested and engaged industry professionals are attending the annual ULPA/LPI Lightning Protection Conference to receive LPS continuing education and engage in peer collaboration. This yearly exchange helps spark innovative ideas and furthers support for new technologysafety messaging and increased education.

If you’re a LPS professional or just a lightning bug making plans for the future, you’ll want to make sure you plan to attend the ULPA/LPI Lightning Protection Conference in Atlanta next year. So, stay tuned for upcoming details and information!