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How to Prepare for Lightning and Thunderstorms

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

lightening corp 8-04-14bThe odds of being struck by lightning are roughly 300,000-600,000 to one. Unfortunately, that is little consolation to the family of a USC student who fell victim to a rare lightning storm that hit Venice Beach on Monday, July 28. When a large bolt struck the water, it injured 13 and killed 20-year-old Nick Fagnano, who was said to have been finished swimming for the day and merely rinsing off in the ocean. Fagnano’s tragic death is a good reminder to prepare for thunder and lightning, in order to #BESAFE.

Here are 10 little-known facts about thunderstorms and lightning:

  1. All thunderstorms are dangerous because every thunderstorm produces lightning, although the lightning produced is not always easily detectable.
  2. Dry thunderstorms that do not produce rain that reaches the ground are most prevalent in the western United States. In this type of thunderstorm, although falling raindrops evaporate; lightning can still reach the ground and could start wildfires.
  3. About 10 percent of thunderstorms are classified as severe (producing hail at least an inch or larger in diameter, with winds of 58 miles per hour or higher or which produce a tornado).
  4. On average in the U.S., lightning kills 51 people and injures hundreds more.
  5. While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the U.S.
  6. Thunderstorms and lightning may occur singly or in clusters.
  7. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of associated long-term, debilitating symptoms.
  8. Thunderstorms typically produce heavy rain for a brief period (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour).
  9. Warm, humid conditions are highly favorable for thunderstorm development.
  10. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.

Lightning Corp 8-04-14So how can you prepare for thunderstorms and lighting? First, learn the terminology so you will be able to act when warnings are issued:

Severe Thunderstorm Watch – Alerts you as to when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning – Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.

To prepare for an emergency of any kind, assemble an emergency kit and make a family communications plan. In the event of an impending thunderstorm, take these safety steps:

In Advance of the Storm:

  • Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage during a severe thunderstorm.
  • Shutter windows and close outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades or curtains.
  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Unplug electronic equipment.
  • Postpone outdoor activities.

During the Storm:

  • Use a battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials.
  • Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes, and do not do laundry. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
  • Avoid contact with corded phones and devices including those plugged into electricity for recharging.  Cordless and wireless phones not connected to wall outlets are OK to use.
  • Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers and turn off air conditioners.
  • Shelter inside a home, building, or hard top automobile (not a convertible). Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are safer inside a vehicle than outside because the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection (provided you are not touching metal).
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and off of porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors.
  • Don’t lean against concrete walls.
  • Stay away from natural lightning rods such as tall, isolated trees in open areas.
  • Steer clear of hilltops, open fields, the beach and boats on the water.
  • Avoid contact with metal of any kind—tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs and bicycles.

While following the above safety suggestions won’t guarantee your safety, careful preparation and planning will put you in a much safer position if thunder or lightning threaten you and your loved ones. When a disaster of any kind strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. The Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training-related costs by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, it saves lives.

Don’t Let Lightning Strike Once!

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

As a building owner or property manager, you might mistakenly believe that 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?

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.

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 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:

Outdoors

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Indoors

Lightning can enter homes and office spaces in three ways:

  1. A direct strike
  2. Through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure
  3. From the ground

To stay safe while indoors:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system.

Terrible Twisters

Sunday, May 9th, 2010
Prepare for tornadoes.

Prepare for tornadoes.

Few events put the power of nature on display like tornadoes. With the recent destructive tornadoes in the Midwest and South, it’s timely for all property owners to review tornado safety procedures.

Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes appear quickly and do not follow any forecasted paths. Panic and confusion among tenants can set in unless prior planning and procedures have been established. Tornadoes are unlike other emergencies, such as fires, because tenants need to stay in the building during the emergency, and actually use the building for protection.

Preparations Before a Storm Occurs

“Warning” or “Watch:” The first alert regarding tornadoes is a “tornado watch,” which simply means the conditions are right for tornadoes to form. A “tornado warning” means that a twister has either touched down or been spotted on meteorological radar.

Warning System

  • Consider installing a warning system that works in conjunction with fire alarms. Make sure that tenants can easily identify the two types of warnings, so they can plan properly. Remember that outside sirens are not intended to be heard indoors.
  • Establish tracking and warning procedures so tenants have enough time to properly prepare for storms.

Physical Improvements

  • Shatter resistant glass, made of Plexi-glass or acrylic substances, can greatly reduce the risk of flying debris including broken glass. This is especially important when tornadoes strike unexpectedly and tenants do not have time to move to the interior of the building.
  • Designate a building area as a tornado shelter. Make sure the area is large enough to accommodate all tenants. FEMA has guidelines on how to select the area in a building that is best suited for a shelter. If possible, investigate ways to reinforce the area through structural improvements, making sure to minimize the amount of materials/projectiles that are in the area.

During the Storm

Personal Safety and Evacuation:

  • Tenants should move away from windows and proceed to the interior of the building, moving to the lowest floors possible.
  • Instruct tenants to use stairs, as power to the elevators will very likely be out.
  • Tenants should be advised to cover their heads at all times in order to prevent injury from falling objects.
  • Establishing safety procedures for employees who are physically disabled will save valuable time.

Lightning:

  • Tornadoes form around severe thunderstorms, which lead to lightning! If time permits, tenants should unplug sensitive computer and television equipment to prevent the risk of fire.

After the Storm

  • Listen to a NOAA weather radio or check websites to be sure the threat of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms have left the area. Remember you may be safer in a slightly damaged building than risking exposure to lightning!
  • Tenants should evacuate the building according to the designated evacuation plan.
  • Once outside, everyone should pay special attention to downed power lines and other dangerous debris.

For tornadoes and other emergencies, we always say that preparation is the first step toward ensuring tenant safety. Proper planning and respect for nature can help save lives.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. Allied Universal, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.