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.
MEDIA ADVISORY: Lightning Safety Awareness Week Kicks Off with Twitter Chat on Monday, June 25, at 2 p.m., EDT
Please note: This release was distributed by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) on the behalf of The Lightning Protection Institute on June 22, 2018 at 11:00 a.m.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MEDIA ADVISORY: Lightning Safety Awareness Week Kicks Off with Twitter Chat on Monday, June 25, at 2 p.m., EDT
Arlington, Va., June 22, 2018 —The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) and the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) are joining forces on Monday, June 25, at 2 p.m., EDT, for their first-ever public Twitter Chat accessible in real time at #LightningSafetyWeek.
The LPI-ESFI partnership comes on the second day of Lightning Safety Awareness Week (LSAW), which is being marked this year from June 24-30, 2018.
The annual campaign aims to educate the public about lightning safety and lightning protection with the hope of reducing electrical fires, electrical injuries, and electrocutions caused by lightning.
To receive more information about Monday, June 25’s Twitter Chat, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Facts and Statistics: Lightning
Infographic: Building Resilient Communities with Lightning Protection Systems
News Release: Building Lightning Safe to Protect People, Property and Places
Reduce Lightning Damage to Homes
Reduce Lightning Damage to Businesses
Protecting “People, Property and Places” is LPI’s Focus of this Year’s National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 24-30
More people are killed and injured by lightning during the summer months than any other time of year. Many lightning deaths and injuries in the U.S. happen when people simply opt for convenience instead of disrupting outdoor plans. Ignoring lightning’s potential dangers, is a risk not worth taking!
“National Lightning Safety Awareness Week is a good time to learn more about the dangers of lightning. We want people to understand these dangers so they make more informed decisions to protect themselves, their family, and their property,” said John Jensenius, National Weather Service lightning safety specialist.
“As the media continues to share daily reports of devastating home and building fires sparked by lightning—in nearly every part of the country—we are reminding property owners, builders, insurance providers and fire safety professionals that these losses can be prevented when lightning protection systems are installed for structures,” shared Bud Van Sickle, executive director for the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI).
In support of this year’s Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 24-30, LPI is stressing the importance of protecting people, property and places. Together, with partners at the National Lightning Safety Council, LPI is promoting awareness and sharing safety information throughout the week on seven important topics:
LPI and NLSC invite educators and public officials to help build lightning safe communities! Learn about lightning safety and risk reduction at lightningsafetycouncil.org and find out about the benefits of safety standard compliant lightning protection systems at lightning.org.
Be sure to join the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) and the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) later this month as we partner to host a Twitter Chat during Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 24-30, 2018.
#LightningSafetyWeek aims to educate the public about lightning safety and lightning protection with the hope of reducing electrical fires, electrical injuries, and electrocutions caused by lightning. ESFI and LPI are calling upon our network of electrical safety ambassadors and our building lightning safe communities supporters to be a part of the dialogue!
The chat will take place on Monday, June 25th, 2018 at 2 p.m. EDT. RSVP and receive more information by emailing email@example.com or participate in real time on Twitter using the hashtag #LightningSafetyWeek.
Mark your calendars for Monday, June 25 and be sure to join the enlightening conversation for #LightningSafetyWeek!