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On average, lightning is responsible for more weather-related deaths in Florida than all other weather hazards combined, and Florida has the highest number of lightning casualties of all 50 states, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). Across the U.S., lightning strikes the ground 30 million times each year and injures about a thousand people, according to the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). Hurricane season is also rainy season, and frequent storms have a tendency to make people complacent. But lightning is a serious danger and being struck can cause death or debilitating injuries.
It is common for people to refer to the chance of being struck by lightning as an improbable or unlikely event. Yet actual statistics say otherwise. Lightning strikes the ground approximately 25 million times each year in the United States. Most people greatly underestimate the probability of being involved in a lightning strike. According to the National Weather Service, the chance of an individual in the United States being killed or injured during a given year is one in 240,000. Assuming an average life span of 80 years, a person’s odds over their lifetime becomes one in 3000. Assuming the average person has ten family members and others with whom they are close, then the chances are one in 300 that a lightning strike will closely affect a person during their lifetime.
Fortunately, however, through public awareness and the applications of safety guidelines, the vast majority of lightning casualties (deaths and injuries) can be easily avoided.
Do’s and Don’ts of Lightning Safety
To protect yourself from lightning, the I.I.I. recommends the following:
- If you are outside with a thunderstorm approaching, seek shelter inside a building as soon as possible—ideally in a structure with a lightning protection system.
- If a building is not available take shelter in car with a metal roof and keep doors and windows closed. It is the metal frame of the car that protects you from lightning and not the rubber tires. Wearing rubber soled shoes will also not provide any protection. If there is no building or car in which to take shelter, minimize your risk by going to an area of lower elevation and staying away from bodies of water and trees. Stay away from trees! Trees are a dangerous place to be in a thunderstorm.
- If someone has been struck by lightning, provide first-aid immediately, begin CPR and call 9-1-1. It is perfectly safe to touch someone who has been struck by lightning—you will not get an electrical shock.
- Invest in a lightning protection system for your home and or business. A building with a properly installed lightning protection system is a smart investment as it provides proven protection for your family, home and values. It is an important safety investment in areas prone to lightning.
The I.I.I. offers the following tips to protect homes and businesses against power surges and lightning strikes:
- Install a lightning protection system. A lightning protection system supplies structural protection by providing a specified path on which lightning can travel. When a building is equipped with a lightning protection system, the destructive power of the lightning strike is directed safely into the ground, leaving the structure and its contents undamaged. The system includes a lightning rod or air terminals at the top of the house that can be disguised to look like a weather vane and wires to carry the current down to grounding rods at the bottom of the house. According to the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the lightning protection system needs to be securely anchored to the roof; otherwise it may whip around in a storm and damage the building. So make sure to have a licensed electrician install your lightning rod and protection system.
- Use surge protectors. Today’s sensitive electronic equipment is particularly vulnerable to lightning. To assure the highest level of protection, UL-listed surge arrestors should be installed on electrical service panels. Installations typically include surge arrestors for the main electric panel, as well as incoming phone, cable, satellite and data lines. Surge arrestors protect against damaging electrical surges that can enter a structure via power transmission lines. By filtering and dissipating the harmful surges, arrestors prevent electrical fires and protect against electrical discharges that can damage a building’s electrical system, computers, appliances and other systems. UL-listed transient voltage surge suppressors can also be installed to protect specific pieces of electronic equipment. Keep in mind that power strips offer little protection from electrical power surges.
- Unplug expensive electronic equipment. As an added precaution, unplug expensive electronic equipment such as TVs, computers and the like if you know a storm is approaching.
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