September 17, 2013 — Haiti is no stranger to severe weather and natural disasters. In recent years, devastating earthquakes, hurricanes and floods have taken their toll on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Our neighbors some 700 miles off the Florida coastline are also extremely vulnerable to a common weather threat that can impact their lives and livelihood on a much more frequent basis. You guessed it; that threat is lightning.
Haiti’s St. Helen’s Home (NPFS) and Orphanage has suffered repeated lightning strikes to its facility and is seeking relief from lightning’s wrath. The orphanage compound sits on the top of the highest point in the Kenscoff mountains and is vulnerable to severe thunderstorms and damaging lightning. Lightning has already caused many problems for the orphanage with damaged electronics and equipment. In addition to the electrical problems, lightning poses a serious safety concern for the children—some of who are severely handicapped and disabled.
In a quest for information and help, the orphanage’s volunteer administrator contacted LPI last winter. After a series of emails, conference calls and pledges of support, a volunteer team known as the Building Lightning Safe Communities (BLSC) – Haiti Project “dream team” was formed.
Members of the BLSC Haiti Project team have formed a plan to utilize resources in order to provide a total protection package for the orphanage. Volunteers from the lightning protection industry, the NOAA/NWS Lightning Safety Awareness team and groups including: Roadie Relief, Project Cure, Weather Decision Technology, Music for Relief and One World Futbol.com have pledged to assist with various aspects of the lightning protection project. A three member advance team (Mark Morgan, Guy Maxwell and Mitch Guthrie) traveled to Haiti this past July to survey the orphanage. The advance team is presently outlining the necessary manpower, materials and costs needed to provide a comprehensive lightning protection package for the various facility structures. The total protection package for St. Helen’s will rely on an extended group effort and generous donations of time, talent and resources.
Information about the BLSC initiative, the Haiti Project and the lightning relief dream team member list can be found at www.lighntingsafe.org. Please visit www.lightningsafe.org and contact LPI if your organization or group is able to provide support for this project. Join the Haiti project dream team and help LPI build lightning safe communities!
August 19, 2013 — When partners load the bases to pinch hit for lightning awareness outreach, safety scores a home run! This is what happened when partners from nonprofit organizations across the country came together in Boston to promote the 2013 Lightning Safety Awareness Week campaign.
Historically speaking, the months of June, July and August are the deadliest months for lightning in the U.S. Summer months typically mean long hot days with humid conditions for most regions in the U.S. and humidity translates to perfect conditions for lightning. And since leisure activities are in full force during June, July and August, it’s no coincidence that the majority of lightning deaths occur while victims are participating in these outdoor activities.
But, just how to get the public’s attention to heed lightning safety during leisure time, has remained a challenge. So, on June 28, 2013 the National Weather Service (NWS) decided it was time to take lightning safety to the ball game–and passionate lightning safety advocates wearing yellow lightning bolt visors were sent to help with the pitching!
In a game plan to bring lightning safety to FenwayPark, the NWS forecast office in Taunton, MA organized a LSA Week promotion with the Red Sox’s Community Home-Stand Program. Meteorologist, Eleanor Vallier-Talbot, jumped at the opportunity to pitch lightning safety at FenwayPark and arranged for a NWS lightning safety booth at the June 28, Red Sox-Blue Jays game during Lightning Safety Awareness Week.
NWS Lightning Safety Awareness Team lead, Donna Franklin coordinated booth materials with Vallier-Talbot to make sure the display was both attention-getting and educational. Red Sox fans were introduced to a variety of LSA week messages, including the “Safer Design for Safer Play” campaign which promotes lightning safety and protection measures for recreational venues. LPI and the Lightning Safety Alliance donated Leon the Lightning Lion posters, safety materials and yellow lightning bolt visors for the fans. The “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” foam visors scored a major hit with Red Sox fans, young and old.
The most exciting moment in the “Play it Safe” outreach at Fenway came in the middle of the fifth inning, when the pre-arranged lightning safety message appeared on the center field New Balance scoreboard. “June 23-30 is National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, Play it Safe!” flashed across the Fenway board for all to see. Although the PSA only appeared for a brief moment in the game, it felt like a homerun to the LSA team partners who had thrown their last pitch of the night for lightning safety awareness!
Oh, and by the way, the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays 7-5; which was pretty sweet, too!
Building Lightning Safe Communities with a Little Help from Architects, Firefighters, Meteorologists & Red Sox Fans!
July 16, 2013 — Oh, and let’s not forget Governor John Hickenlooper! So what do architects, firefighters, meteorologists, Red Sox fans and Governor John Hickenlooper have in common? They were all part of the “Building Lightning Safe Communities” campaign effort in conjunction with Lightning Safety Awareness Week 2013. The collaboration was certainly a “tag-team” effort beginning in Denver, CO on June 22 and wrapping up in Boston on June 28. Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper, graciously provided campaign support with an official Lightning Safety Awareness Week proclamation, noting that “education is key to understanding lightning’s dangers.” And education was the focus when LPI, the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA), the National Weather Service (NWS) and other partnering organizations joined emergency preparedness director, Dana Reynolds and South Metro Fire Rescue chief, Dan Qualman for a press conference at Fire Station #45 in Parker, CO to kick-off the 13th annual Lightning Safety Awareness Week and share details about the Building Lightning Safe Communities campaign.
Why Colorado for the kick-off? Our partners at the NWS tell us that lightning strikes Colorado almost 500,000 times a year and has killed 91 people and injured over 400 in Colorado since 1980. Lightning has also been responsible for sparking devastating wildfires in the region and in other nearby states. Lightning is also known to accompany tornadoes; which was just the scenario when a tornado touched ground at the Denver airport on June 18, just three days prior to the Lightning Safety Awareness week kick-off event! (I was privy to an up-close and personal view of the brewing storm while participating in a LPI strategic planning session at the Denver Airport Marriott.)
“A single bolt of lightning can reach over five miles in length and carry a hundred million volts of electricity,” explains Mark Morgan, spokesman for the LSA. The LSA held a continuing education seminar about lightning protection and national safety standards which Morgan moderated in conjunction with the Parker, CO kick-off event.
Concerns about national safety standards for lightning protection is where the architects tag-up for the 2013 LSA Week effort. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention was held in Denver this summer and featured a broadcast of “ARCHITECT Live” on the Expo hall which introduced attendees to personalities, experts and industry watchers who shared insights and ideas about the world of architecture. While at the AIA Expo, I enjoyed the opportunity to provide a five-minute interview with host, Stephen Chung to introduce the Building Lightning Safe Communities campaign and discuss the importance of national safety standards. Architects rely on this important information when specifying lightning protection. (Architects seeking information about safety standards for lightning protection can contact www.lightningsafetyalliance.org for information about an AIA registered continuing education program, “Lightning Protection Basics – LSA 101.”)
Tag-up firefighters, and here we were blessed to work with South Metro Fire Rescue Chief, Dan Qualman who served as emcee for the 2013 LSA Week kick-off press conference. “Each year we see lightning-related injuries, deaths and property loss that might have been prevented with awareness and education,” said Chief Qualman. In conjunction with the Building Lightning Safe Communities campaign, LPI member firms, Mr. Lightning and ECLE facilitated a lightning protection system donation for South Metro Fire Rescue Station #45. LPI and member firms have organized several other lightning protection system donations for fire stations in high risk regions of the U.S., as outreach with fire safety groups has revealed that many stations across the country are lacking systems to protect their personnel, structures and equipment.
Another highlight of the 2013 campaign was the “Safer Design for Safer Play” educational initiative which promotes lightning safety and provides educational resources for outdoor facilities such as theme, parks, golf courses, open air venues and stadiums. This is where the meteorologists and Red Sox fans tag-teamed to load the bases for lightning safety. Stay tuned for more of the LSA Week re-cap…to be continued soon!
June 14, 2013 — National groups across the country join forces in June to promote public awareness about lightning safety and mitigation. NOAA and the National Weather Service launched an annual lightning safety campaign in 2001 to increase awareness about the dangers of lightning and provide the public with safety information to help protect families and their property. Since 2001, outreach with like-minded partners such as the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, FLASH, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have helped expand the campaign mission to deliver lightning safety and preparedness messages to the public.
The 13th annual Lightning Safety Awareness Week is June 23-29, 2013. This year’s campaign kick-off will take place in Parker, CO with a press conference and community event planned for June 21, at South Metro Fire Rescue Station #45. The kick-off event will also provide an overview of the “Building Lightning Safe Communities” campaign, which is providing lightning protection systems for fire stations across the U.S. In conjunction with the campaign, a LPI-IP certified lightning protection system installation will provided for South Metro Fire Rescue Station #45 by LPI member firms, ECLE and Mr. Lightning.
Lightning is responsible for billions of dollars in damage to buildings, communication systems, power lines and electrical systems each year. Lightning Safety Awareness Week is an ideal time to remind the public about steps they can take to stay safe from lightning’s underrated risk.
Lightning safety awareness and education boosted by partnership can help build on the success of existing programs and services. By pooling expert resources accordingly, partners can come together to make a difference to better address lightning safety and protection needs for life and property.
More information about National Lightning Safety Awareness Week can be found at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov. More information about lightning safety and protection for outdoor facilities can be found www.lightning-risk.org.
It’s Electrical Safety Month and Time to Raise Awareness about the Importance of Lightning Protection Safety Standards!
May 16, 2013 — May is National Electrical Safety Month and the Lightning Protection Institute is joining with the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) to raise awareness about the importance of electrical safety—including lightning, an underrated and often forgotten electrical hazard. Lightning is the rapid discharge of atmospheric electricity that can pack up to 100 million volts of power—so we’re talking mega electricity with lots of potential for damage and destruction. A lightning strike to an unprotected structure can be disastrous and a single incident can cost thousands of dollars, with losses ranging from damage to expensive electronics to fires that destroy entire buildings.
The vulnerability of homes and buildings to lightning’s harmful electricity can not be understated. Power and generation systems, gas and water piping, and enhanced communication lines have created induction problems for today’s structures, allowing lightning’s access through energized lines or system grounds.
When a lightning protection system complies with national safety standards, it provides a practical and tested solution to protect a structure, its occupants, contents, equipment and operations. The grounding network provided by a properly installed system is a total package protection approach, but the package is incomplete without adherence to national safety standards.
LPI and lightning protection industry groups are increasingly concerned about growing news reports of lightning-induced fires and building evacuations occurring at structures where non-standard lightning protection systems have been installed. Vendors are pitching “new technology” systems and devices, many of which make claims to prevent lightning attachment. The fact that these devices don’t comply with U.S. safety standards and are refuted by independent lightning experts should raise serious questions with every, engineer, architect or building planner responsible for selecting lightning protection systems. The science is nonexistent, the safety standard compliance is missing, the reports of failures keep coming, yet these non-standard devices continue to flood the marketplace. Enlightenment is needed and it begins in the building planning phase!
LPI is reminding engineers and building planners to carefully review their specifications for lightning protection to make sure they comply with recognized safety standards of LPI, NFPA and UL. Information about lightning protection design in accordance with safety standards is available at www.lightning-risk.org or www.lightningsafetyalliance.org.
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May to increase public awareness of electrical hazards. For more information about ESFI and electrical safety, visit www.esfi.org.
April 23, 2013 — Recent lightning-triggered fires across the country highlight the destructive impact this hazardous force of nature can have on unprotected homes and structures. In recent days, lightning has ignited numerous home, business and church fires in states across the country. Illinois has been a region notably impacted by widespread accounts of lightning strikes. Severe storms in this region of the country produced damaging lightning strikes that caused evacuations at a Cancer Treatment Center in Swansea, a Praxair facility in Cahokia and a McDonald’s restaurant in the Wood River area. According to news accounts, firefighters responded to reports of fire and smoke at these businesses and to a string of other lightning fires at multiple residences in nearby Illinois suburbs.
It seems like this April weather is just a foreshadowing of a stormy spring season, as weather forecasters are predicting more of the same across other parts of the country. Rapidly fluctuating temperatures, increased moisture and rising daytime heat can provide prime conditions for spring and summer thunderstorms to develop.
Against this backdrop of unpredictable weather, LPI reminds property owners of the importance of lightning protection systems in helping to prevent injury and property loss during lightning storms. In a worse case scenario a lightning strike to an unprotected structure can cause catastrophic fire damage. A best case scenario may mean damage to electronics or appliances—translating to expensive repairs and inconvenient downtime. Fortunately, a lightning protection system can offer an affordable and reliable solution against this underrated, yet highly destructive weather hazard.
A lightning protection system provides a network of low resistance paths to safely intercept lightning’s dangerous electricity and direct it to ground without impact to the structure or its occupants. But the key to safe and reliable protection is through professional installation. Grounding 30 million+ volts of electricity is not a do-it-yourself project, so home and business owners should not attempt to install lightning protection systems! As property owners consider an investment in lightning protection, they should be sure to contract with qualified and experienced specialists who are trained to install systems in accordance with the nationally recognized safety standards of LPI, NFPA and UL.
It only takes one lightning strike to reduce a home or building to rubble and lightning doesn’t discriminate with regard to its victims. Sir Richard Branson felt the wrath of lightning’s destruction in August of 2011 when his home on Necker Island was destroyed by a lightning strike that forced his household and guests to evacuate in the early hours of the morning. News reports of the lightning fire cited visiting actress, Kate Winslet rescuing Branson’s 90-year old mother from the blaze. Thankfully, Branson and his family and guests safely evacuated without injury, but his home and its contents were lost for good.
Lightning can wreak havoc on unsuspecting home and business owners. Since it doesn’t discriminate according to region of the country like other natural disasters, most areas are susceptible to lightning strikes. Recognizing the impact of lightning is the first step in preventing damage.
March 6, 2013 — FEMA and NOAA have partnered to designate March 3-9, 2013 as National Severe Weather Preparedness Week and are calling upon all Americans to Be a Force of Nature. National Severe Weather Preparedness Week is a nationwide effort to increase awareness of severe weather and to motivate individuals, families, businesses, and communities to take actions that will prepare them in the event of severe weather.
LPI is joining the effort and reminding its members and the public to Be a Force of Nature and better prepare for severe weather threats, including the often underrated threat of lightning.
Lightning protection experts from around the U.S. recently met in Las Vegas for the 81st annual LPI/ULPA Lightning Protection Conference and discussed ways that LPI members can Be a Force of Nature by knowing the lightning risk, taking action, spreading education and serving as an example.
Each year, individuals are killed or seriously injured by lightning, tornadoes and other types of severe weather, despite advance warning. In 2012, there were more than 450 weather-related fatalities and nearly 2,600 injuries. Severe weather knows no boundaries and affects every individual. While lightning is often underrated as a weather hazard, it is a leading storm-related killer. Lightning is also responsible for more than a billion dollars in property damage each year.
Severe Weather Preparedness Week is a good time to remind individuals, families, communities, design professionals and safety engineers about lightning safety and lightning protection measures. Design professionals can find new educational resources about lightning protection for outdoor facilities at www.lightning-risk.org.
More information and ideas on how you can Be a Force of Nature can be found at www.ready.gov/severeweather. Information on the different types of severe weather such as tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flooding is available at www.weather.gov.
or the Spanish-language web site www.listo.gov. Information about lightning safety is available at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.
Take action and Be a Force of Nature! And during National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, don’t forget about lightning, the underrated, but commonly experienced weather threat that affects most Americans most of the time.
As first responders, firefighters play a critical role in lightning safety and the lightning protection education process. The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) has made a commitment to support firefighters by sponsoring a “Campaign to Help Build Lightning Safe Communities.” This is a continuation of LPI’s recent initiative to provide lightning protection resources to the public and the fire safety community. LPI-certified master installer firms are participating in the campaign to provide complimentary lightning protection systems for designated fire stations in several high risk lightning regions of the U.S. including: Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Toledo. LPI organized the campaign donations when outreach with the fire safety community revealed that many stations across the country were lacking lightning protection systems to protect their personnel, structures and equipment.
So what kind of problems does this weather threat cause for fire
stations? Common lightning problems include failures of internal building systems, damage to expensive electronics and fire-protection equipment, and in worse case scenarios, structural fires. Fortunately, lightning protection systems can provide critical security for fire stations and other service structures.
According to a 2010 NFPA analysis, titled “Lightning Fires and Lightning Strikes,” fire departments in the U.S. responded to an estimated 24,600 lightning fires per year from 2004 to 2008. These fires were responsible for civilian and firefighter deaths, injuries and approximately $407 million in preventable property damage. Statistics for lightning fires are typically obtained from surveys and voluntary reporting sources. Since reporting is voluntary, the actual number of lightning fires is believed to be much higher than the estimated reports.
Part of LPI’s campaign message is to remind fire professionals to include information about lightning incidents in their NFIRS and NFPA reports where relevant. LPI believes accurate reporting can help alleviate apathy against a destructive weather hazard and increase awareness about a preventable fire risk. Fire safety professionals may also want to refer to the NFPA 780 Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems which is a valuable resource for reducing lightning risks.
Contact LPI for more information about the Lightning Safe Communities Campaign. Through awareness, education and partnership, LPI will continue its mission to help build lightning safe communities!
“Thundersnow” on Franklin’s Birthday is a Reminder that Hazardous Weather can Strike without Warning!
The National Weather Service (NWS) reported lightning striking from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest during a widespread winter storm that recently hit the U.S. and parts of Canada on January 17, 2013. The date happened to be Benjamin Franklin’s 306th birthday, who ironically, happens to be the inventor of the lightning rod.
“Thundersnow” is a rare weather phenomenon that features the unusual combination of thunder, lightning and snow. According to the NWS, thundersnow is so rare that it only occurs in less than one percent of observed snowstorms.
So what causes this weather phenomenon? The NWS explains that thundersnow occurs when lightning forms after an electric charge separation process in updrafts and downdrafts created inside a convective system. Enhanced air instability, a quick temperature change from surface to cloud and a charge separation process can trigger lightning and the ensuing thundersnow.
Lightning occurring during thundersnow has been known to zap trees, homes, buildings and traffic lights; although wide-spread power outages during these storms are a more common scenario. Restoration and repair of power lines in the winter can be especially tricky when heavy snows impact travel and road accessibility. While lightning is commonly an underrated weather threat, it’s even more so during winter storms when thunderstorm conditions can be harder to predict. The average lightning bolt can carry 100 million volts of electrical power and it’s virtually impossible to predict when and where lightning will strike. Lightning can strike miles ahead of a parent thunderstorm and several minutes after a storm leaves a specific area; which is why the NWS has dubbed lightning as “the first thunderstorm hazard to arrive and the last to leave.”
Even though lightning is a frequently experienced weather peril and a known fire risk for structures, myths still persist about lightning protection. Franklin’s famous kite and key experiment in 1750 proved that lightning is electricity and thus led to his invention of the lightning rod and structural lightning protection systems. The Franklin rod was designed to conduct lightning’s electricity and disperse it safely into the ground. Soon after Franklin’s invention, lightning rods and lightning protection systems began to be installed on buildings and homes for protection against a common cause of structural fire. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) first adopted “Specifications for Protection of Buildings Against Lightning” in 1904, which eventually led to lightning protection code 78 and the ensuing “Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems” NFPA 780 document adopted in 1992.
Lightning protection has come a long way since Franklin first invented the lightning rod in 1752, but the principles behind the science of lightning protection remain the same today. Franklin’s famous quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” still rings true in terms of the security lightning protection can provide against nature’s underrated threat—whether that dangerous weather condition strikes in spring, summer, fall or even winter!
Remember the Lightning Protection when Going Green! Hazard resistance can improve sustainability & prevent losses.
Natural disasters can have a devastating effect on you, your home and your property. While sustainable building design concepts are increasingly being incorporated into construction through green building rating systems, it’s important that these practices also implement resiliency measures to address natural hazards. Designers, builders and code officials are typically mindful of practices that provide resistance to natural hazards such as high winds, earthquakes, floods and wildfires–but what about lightning? The risk of lightning and especially fire associated with lightning, is often overlooked and underrated as a potential threat. Even the most safety-conscious designer, may not have considered this risk that affects thousands of homeowners each year. Lightning associated with thunderstorms and sometimes hurricanes can pose a variety of fire hazards. The massive power of lightning’s electrical charge and intense heat can induce destructive power surges through home circuitry, burn holes in CSST gas piping, explode brick and roofing materials, and ignite house fires.
While it’s true that lightning losses are generally a covered peril in most property insurance policies, usually there are treasured belongings that homeowners can’t replace or restore. Lightning protection is often one of the least expensive improvements that homeowners can purchase, and it can provide the best type of insurance – peace of mind and protection for family, home and valuables.
Lightning is also unique in that it doesn’t discriminate according to the region of the country. Most regions in the U.S. are susceptible to lightning strikes. Since lightning strikes more than 250,000 times per year and the vast majority of homes in the U.S. do not have lightning protection systems, there is a real potential for danger and destruction. The upside is that typically, only minimal design modifications are needed to address hazard resistance against this frequently destructive force of nature. For homeowners who don’t want to take a chance with lightning, a professionally installed lightning protection system is a viable idea.
A lightning protection system provides a network of low resistance paths to safely intercept lightning’s dangerous electricity and direct it to ground without impact to the structure or its occupants. When lightning’s electricity is confined to a properly designed conductive path via a lightning protection system (e.g. roof network, grounding, bonding and surge protection) damage can be minimized or eliminated. Providing this low resistance path means the lightning does not try to fight its way through non-conductive building materials like wood, brick, rubber membranes, glass and plastic en route to the ground. Since the resistance encountered in these materials is what produces heat, fires and even explosions, adding a lightning protection system can safeguard a home from the resultant effects of lightning.
It’s important for designers, builders and code officials to include lightning protection among green building practices for natural hazard resistance. Green buildings also use state of the art energy collection methods that can be susceptible to damage by direct or nearby lightning strikes. Lightning’s harmful surges can zap, interrupt and damage these internal building systems. Repair and service of these systems can result in homeowner headaches and often lead to costly service fees. Not only is lightning protection effective and affordable, but it provides another measure to improve building safety, resiliency, sustainability and efficiency. So if you’re going green with building plans, don’t forget the lightning protection!