As a building owner or property manager, you might think you don’t have to worry about the risk of lightning striking your tenants while they are inside the safety of your high rise walls. But you do. Also, would your occupants and visitors know what to do if a lightning bolt strikes while they walk to or from your building, in the courtyard or on the roof? I did a little research and couldn’t find any evidence of dogs being struck. But I did discover that giraffes have been. And that actually makes sense!
According to the National Weather Service, so far this year, 24 people in 16 U.S. states have lost their lives to lightning. Ranging in age from 9 to 68, the victims had been participating in activities as varied as sailing, fishing, repairing utilities, playing soccer and picking berries. On average, lightning bolts strike 400 people and kill 54 each year. And although summer is the peak season for thunder and lightning, many of the heaviest hitting thunder bolts hit in early to late September.
Lightning is fascinating to watch but also extremely dangerous. In the U.S., there are about 25 million lightning flashes every year. Each of those 25 million flashes is a potential killer. And while lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. My Internet research about cat-deaths was a bit disappointing. It turns out that cats naturally follow the lightning-safe rules. That figures.
Hundreds of victims survive lightning strikes each year but suffer severe, debilitating symptoms including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, joint and muscle stiffness, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression and more.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has launched a comprehensive public relations promotion to inform people and pets about what to do to prepare for thunder and lightning.
Entitled, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors,” the campaign seeks to educate the public about the importance of ceasing outdoor activities as soon as lightning and thunder encroach. The movement includes a cartoon lion named Leon, created and shared by the Lightning Safety Alliance, who uses videos and games to advise kids and their parents to seek shelter immediately in a substantial building or a hard-topped metal vehicle.
While your tenants and their visitors may not respond to a cartoon character’s admonitions to take lightning safety seriously, don’t neglect your responsibility as a building owner or property manager to educate folks about what to do when they hear thunder roll. What’s wrong with a cartoon mascot whose goal is to educate people about safety?
- When you hear thunder roll, go indoors.
- Don’t assume you are far from the location of the storm. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from rainfall and has been documented to strike up to 70 miles away from the thunderstorm which generated the lighting. The general rule of thumb is if you can hear thunder, the storm is close enough that it could strike your location at any moment.
- There are no safe places outdoors during a lightning storm. You are not safe outside.
- If you are outside camping or hiking, etc., far from any safe vehicle or building, distance yourself from open fields and hilltops. Get away from tall, isolated trees and other tall objects. Tents offers no protection whatsoever from lighting. If you are camping and your vehicle is nearby, run to it before the storm arrives.
- Stay away from water and wet items such as ropes and metal objects, like fences and poles. Water and metal are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel long distances.
- Stay off of porches. My hound dog buddies might resist my advice here. But it’s important, guys!
- Don’t lie on the ground. Although it was once believed that doing so protected people from lightning strikes the earth, it induces currents in the ground that can be fatal up to 100 feet away. These currents fan out from the strike center in a tendril pattern. So, in order to minimize your chance of being struck, you have to minimize both your height and your body’s direct contact with the earth’s surface. Lying on the ground is one of my favorite things to do. So I’ve got to make a note to self about this one.
- Do not lean against concrete walls. Lightning can travel through concrete.
- Remember your pets. Dog houses are not safe shelters. Also, dogs that are left chained to trees or wire runners can easily fall victim to lightning strikes. Bring pets inside.
Lightning can enter homes and office spaces in three ways:
- A direct strike
- Through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure
- From the ground
- Keep off the phone. Although it is safe to use cellular or cordless phones, corded phones are dangerous in lightning storms because the lightning can travel through electric wires. If a bolt strikes your house or a nearby power line, it could travel into your house through the plumbing or the electric wiring.
- Avoid using electric appliances. If you are using any electrical appliances or plumbing fixtures (including telephones and computers) and a storm is overhead, you are putting yourself at risk! About 4-5% of people struck by lightning are hit while talking on corded telephones. To BE SAFE, unplug all electronics before the storm strikes. That’s why I prefer low tech.
- Don’t touch electrical equipment or cords. Unplug equipment before the storm arrives.
- Do not wash your hands, take a shower or wash dishes since lightning can travel through plumbing.
- Stay away from windows and doors. Now, for a dog, this one is difficult.
- If your building hosts electrically sensitive equipment, you might consider installing a lightning protection system. Although these do not prevent lightening, they help mitigate damage by giving the lightning a preferred pathway from the top of the building to the ground.
Thankfully, emergency management personnel are developing technologies to assist in the preparation and response to disasters which result from lightning and thunder storms across the country. In fact, as wildfires ravaged parts of Colorado earlier this summer, a web-based tracking tool helped responders quickly and more accurately find the blazes caused by lightning strikes. Called the Lightning Decision Support System, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management (BOEM) started using the technology a couple days prior to the Flagstaff Fire that started on June 26 and eventually burned 300 acres. Thanks to the new technology, as lightning pummeled the county, emergency workers were able to pinpoint the location of strikes in real time and more confidently send responders to the scene.
For more information about lightning safety, check out the myriad of free resources available on the NOAA website. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system.