According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated 95,000 apartment structure fires occurred in the U.S. in 2016. How many of these fires were sparked by lightning is unclear, but a quick Google search of the words “lightning, fires and apartments,” reveals news accounts of countless lightning-sparked property losses throughout the country. And that’s just what’s been reported over the past few months.
Fire and insurance authorities cite roadblocks to obtaining accurate data about these lightning losses due to a variety factors, namely:
- A complex National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) which is a voluntary data collection depository of U.S. fire departments participating; thus incomplete and subject to field challenges and reporting shortcomings.
- A number of participating departments who fail to provide consistent data (every year).
- FEMA data suggesting that fire reporting to federal or state fire departments or industrial fire brigades is also omitted in NFIRS estimates.
- Lightning fire classification charts published by NFPA citing exclusions of fires at apartments or other multi-family housing.
- Non-existent historical data and tracking of “lightning-sparked” fires and ensuing property losses (insurance statistics) at U.S. apartment complexes.
When it comes to lightning and apartment buildings, it’s unclear as to who is making final decisions regarding risk assessment, tolerable risk and whether lightning protection should be employed as mitigation. In many cases, developers and home builders play leading roles in the design and construction of residential buildings and apartment complexes with building codes and standards (voluntary or otherwise), serving as key drivers in the construction decision-making process.
LPI is hopeful that improvements in the fire incident reporting systems can be enacted to make it easier for firefighters to provide good quality data about all fires–including those sparked by lightning. Unfortunately, funding to make even the most minor changes remains a challenge. In the meantime, while funding is under review, LPI encourages fire safety representatives to include lightning in their NFIRS and NFPA reports wherever relevant, so that communities and decision-makers can have an accurate strike count.
When fire professionals and first-responders take the lead for lightning safety, it helps prevent under-reporting about a potentially-devastating weather hazard and increases awareness about a preventable property risk.
In support of National Fire Prevention Week, October 7-13
For Immediate Release
MARYVILLE, Mo. — October 8, 2018 — According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) today’s home fires burn faster than ever. In a typical home fire, residents may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely from the time smoke is visible or an alarm sounds. Understanding the risks and knowing how to react quickly and wisely can mean the difference between life and death in a fire event.
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is teaming up with the NFPA — the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week™ for more than 90 years-to promote this year’s campaign, “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere™,” which works to educate the public about basic but essential ways to quickly and safely escape a home fire. NFPA statistics show that the number of U.S. home fires has been steadily declining over the past few decades. However, the death rate per 1000 home fires that are reported to fire departments was 10 percent higher in 2016 than in 1980.
“These numbers show that while we’ve made significant progress in teaching people how to prevent fires from happening, there’s still much more work to do in terms of educating the public about how to protect themselves in the event of one,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “This is particularly critical, given the increased speed at which today’s home fires grow and spread.”
Carli notes that although people feel safest in their home, it is also the place people are at greatest risk to fire, with four out of five U.S. fire deaths occurring at home. That over-confidence contributes to a complacency toward home escape planning and practice.
While the NFPA campaign is focusing on home fires, their fire safety messages apply to virtually any structure and any type of structural fire-including those sparked by lightning.
“In working to spread awareness about lightning safety and increase education about lightning protection, we’ve come to realize that most Americans are uninformed about the dangers of lightning; including its very real fire risk,” said Kimberly Loehr, communications director for LPI.
Lightning’s extreme electrical charge can induce destructive surges through a building’s circuitry, puncture pinholes in CSST gas piping, explode brick and roofing, and ignite many types of structural fires. Insurance incident reports indicate that it only takes a single lightning strike to spark a devastating fire. And increasing news reports of lightning fires at countless homes and structures in the U.S. reveal that these tragic situations occur more often than people realize.
For property owners who don’t want to play the odds with lightning, a professionally-installed, safety standard compliant lightning protection system is a viable idea. Lightning protection systems (LPS) that follow the guidelines of NFPA 780, provide a network of low-resistance paths to safely intercept lightning’s destructive electricity and direct it to ground without impact to a structure or its occupants.
“Situational awareness is a skill people need to use wherever they go, but unfortunately people make choices in lightning and fire situations that jeopardize their safety or even cost them their lives,” said Loehr. “By sharing facts and education resources during Fire Prevention Week, we can increase awareness about an underrated fire hazard and hopefully, help build support for lightning safety initiatives, too.”
To educate people about the fire dangers of lightning and the benefits of lightning protection systems for homes and structures, LPI created a new infographic to support this year’s “Look. Listen. Learn.” campaign which highlights three important steps people can take to help quickly and safely escape any fire scenario:
- Look for places fire could start.
- Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm.
- Learn two ways out of every room.
For more information about Fire Prevention Week and home escape planning, visit www.firepreventionweek.org
LPI is leading a Build and Protect effort for lightning safety by providing important lightning protection resources for property owners, insurance providers, architects, engineers and construction planners. When safety stakeholders take a proactive mitigation approach to the lightning hazard, they help prevent lightning-sparked fires at all types of structures. For safety and quality assurance, LPI-IP provides third-party inspection and certification services to ensure lightning protection system compliance with nationally-recognized safety standards.
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is a not-for-profit, nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and education and is a leading resource for lightning protection and system requirements. Visit the LPI website at www.lightning.org for more information.
For more information contact: Kimberly Loehr, NFPA Building Fire Safety Systems Section Member, LPI Communications Office, firstname.lastname@example.org
In support of National Fire Prevention Week, October 7-13, 2018
Download the LPI Fire Prevention Week infographic:
Safety is a primary concern for every school in the country, and even more so at colleges and universities where large numbers of students reside in campus dormitories and apartments. Severe weather and fires pose special threats to school communities. Since lightning is the weather peril that affects nearly every area of the country, it’s important that school administrators, coaches, emergency managers and security personnel understand the threat and develop a plan to protect students and fortify their school structures.
Here are three questions designed to help schools examine the lightning risk and reduce their exposure:
- Does your school have an evacuation plan in place in case of a lightning fire? If not, make this a priority TODAY! Lightning fires aren’t always visible in their initial stages. A lingering acrid or unusual smell can be evidence of a lightning strike, so it’s important that school safety directors and resident assistants check attic and basement spaces right away. In a fire, seconds count, so be sure to investigate a potential lightning strike immediately and call the fire department for expert guidance. School officials and educators seeking information about fire evacuation will want to review these helpful Campus Fire Safety resources.
- Has your school performed a lightning risk assessment or cost-benefit analysis to evaluate lightning protection system (LPS) installations for new construction, building renovation and existing structures? Not sure how to assess or who to consult? Architects, safety professionals, building owners and property managers have come to rely on the NFPA Lightning Risk Assessment methodology found in the NFPA 780 Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems, to determine risk of damage due to lightning.
- Is your campus “schooled” in the science of lightning and lightning protection? Don’t wait for a lightning event to test your school’s storm smarts; get enlightened now! The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) provides a wealth of resources for school officials to view and download. Visit this LPI website link to view videos and public safety announcements, download brochures about lightning protection, read FAQ’s, and browse LPI’s own “Library of Resources.”
Finally, if your campus doesn’t have an outdoor lightning safety policy, there’s no time like the present to make sure staff and students take the lightning threat seriously to stay vigilant at sporting and recreation events. Mitigating severe weather threats for large groups of people can be challenging, and implementing a lightning safety policy is no exception. Having clearly communicated measures and a best-practice policy in place can go a long way in preventing a devastating lightning tragedy. For schools seeking preparedness guidance, Earthnetworks.com has compiled a list of “8 Lightning Policy Best Practices” for implementing smart approaches to lightning safety.
Are you a student, educator or school official? If so, LPI invites you to support Campus Fire Safety Month and help raise awareness of fire safety at your school. Visit http://www.campus-firewatch.com/ for additional resources and important safety information.
It’s the middle of the night when you and your family are awakened by a loud boom of a thunder-clap. Your windows rattle as you feel your house shake. Your instincts tell you your home has been struck by lightning, but what should you do?
“Anyone who suspects a lightning strike to their home should immediately check their enclosed spaces, like the attic and basement—even if the smoke alarm isn’t sounding and even if you don’t smell smoke,” said Georgia State Fire Marshal, Dwayne Garriss.
According to Garriss, lightning-sparked fires occur more often than people realize. Because lightning is the weather event that affects most people in most parts of the country, it’s important for homeowners to take the threat seriously and have a plan of action.
“A lingering acrid smell or fallen debris from damaged chimneys or shingles can be evidence of a lightning strike,” explained Garriss. “Since lightning fires aren’t always visible in their beginning stages, it’s important to investigate your property and call the fire department immediately.”
Lightning is extreme electricity that can carry up to 300 million volts of energy. When you compare lightning with an average household electrical current of 120 volts and 15 amps, it’s easy to understand how devastating lightning can be to an unprotected home—and it only takes a single strike to ignite a devastating fire.
Because lightning is known for its capricious nature, as much as for its massive power, it’s hard to predict when, what and how it will strike. A few ways lightning’s destructive electricity can enter a building or home, include:
- Through a direct strike that can ignite fires or explode roofing, brick or concrete
- Via roof projections like weather vanes, antennas and satellite dishes
- Through a strike to a chimney or prominent roof dormer
- Via telephone or power lines that can harm internal wiring and electronic equipment
- Via surges or side flash delivered through a nearby tree
- Through home systems like garage doors or cable lines
- Via home amenities like irrigation systems, invisible fences and electric gates
- Through metallic lines, piping or CSST gas piping
Amidst increased reports of lightning-sparked fires destroying property, killing pets, and more tragically, claiming lives (including the recent death of a 13-year veteran firefighter), LPI encourages property owners to investigate the benefits of safety standard-compliant lightning protection systems to mitigate this common weather threat. Lightning protection systems (LPS) that follow the guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) can provide 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.
Finally, as in any fire, including those sparked by lightning, seconds count and reaction is critical! So whether your proactive approach to lightning includes a lightning protection system or not, be sure that your family develops a home escape plan for fire and practices it. When the unexpected occurs—especially in the middle of the night, mere seconds can be the difference between a safe evacuation and a devastating, life-altering situation.
LPI is a proud sponsor of the 34th International Conference on Lightning Protection, which will be held in Rzeszow, Poland on September 2-7, 2018. Hosted by the Rzeszow University of Technology, the ICLP 2018 Conference continues a tradition of the preceding ICLP programs by offering an exchange platform of scientific and technical information related to lightning research and lightning protection.
Agenda items for the 2018 Conference will include presentations related to the study of lightning physics, lightning characteristics, lightning protection of structures, electric power systems and electronic systems as well to methods improving protection of people, animals and property against the effects of lightning.
Visit the ICLP2018 website for details and information.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated 95,000 apartment structure fires occurred in the U.S. in 2016. How many of these fires were sparked by lightning is unclear, but a quick Google search of the words “lightning, fires and apartments” reveals news accounts of dozens of lightning-sparked property losses throughout the country–and that’s just this summer. With thunderstorm season ramping up in July, the number of lightning-sparked apartment fires is likely to increase—if not double by the end of September.
Finding accurate statistical information for any property loss due to lightning is already challenging, as available data is comprised of estimates derived from the U.S. Fire Administration’s (USFA’s) National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and an annual survey of U.S. fire departments. According to NFPA, NFIRS is a voluntary system, with an estimated two-thirds of U.S. fire departments participating. And of those who are participating, not all provide data every year. FEMA data cites that fires reported to federal or state fire departments or industrial fire brigades are also omitted in the NFIRS estimates. Furthermore, since lightning fire classification charts published by NFPA have cited exclusions of fires at “apartments or other multi-family housing,” data about lightning-sparked fires at U.S. apartment complexes has been virtually non-existent. (Disclaimer/Challenge: This author was unable to obtain these statistics, but urges readers to cite or share pertinent data.)
Determining who the gatekeepers are and locating the accurate data is only part of the puzzle. When it comes to lightning and apartment buildings, it’s also unclear as to who is calling the shots and making the final decisions regarding risk assessment, tolerable risk and whether lightning protection should be employed as mitigation. According to Virginia construction sources contacted for this blog, “developers and home builders typically play leading roles in the design and construction of residential buildings and apartment complexes with building codes and standards (voluntary or otherwise), serving as key drivers in the construction decision-making process.” Sources added that “many structural systems and requirements for various building amenities are identified and finalized during schematic design and design development.”
When it comes to lightning protection specification, engineers, architects, safety professionals and building owners, typically rely on the NFPA Risk Assessment methodology (found in NFPA 780 Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems) to determine the risk of damage due to lightning. The NFPA risk index compares the expected direct strikes to the structure with the occupancy and contents to evaluate whether lightning protection should be specified or considered optional. When evaluating the lightning risk, the methodology takes into account these factors:
- Type of construction
- Structure occupancy
- Structure contents
- Lightning stroke consequences
Although Risk Assessment methodology provides a formula for gauging potential for the lightning hazard, a practical guideline for building risk assessment is to weigh consideration of the probability of a lightning event and the consequences of such an event at a given location. Oftentimes, the presence of a single risk factor is more than enough to render a structure vulnerable and in need of protection. Since a lightning strike can introduce a chain reaction of destruction, structures that house large numbers of people—like nursing homes, hospitals, schools and apartment complexes, should certainly be considered as prime candidates for lightning protection.
When calling the shots for building lightning safe, it certainly makes sense for planners to heed the advice of NFPA emergency service experts and include community officials, first responders and the local fire marshal in the risk assessment process. Per NFPA recommendations, “including your response community as part of the risk assessment is beneficial, as local experts have tactical knowledge, in revealing vulnerabilities because they have that mindset.”
In closing, I’d like to make a final pitch to our fire safety professionals to include lightning in their NFIRS and NFPA reports wherever relevant, so that communities and decision-makers can have an accurate strike count. When fire professionals and first responders “umpire” lightning safety, it helps prevent under-reporting about a potentially-devastating weather hazard and increases awareness about a preventable risk.
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) provides education materials and resources for building planners and community officials to consider when weighing the lightning risk. Visit the LPI website and LPI’s Build and Protect A&E portal for free information.
Further safety information about the hazard fire poses to apartment and condominiums, along with life-saving steps residents can take in the event of a fire, are available at these FEMA and NFPA web links.