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Bret Hanna
Bret Hanna
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Lightning Sparks School Fire and Highlights Need for Awareness

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Around noon on Monday, lighting struck the Top Flight Academy in Mt. Pleasant, a school for at-risk teen males, causing a fire that destroyed the building. The lightning bolt shot through the roof of the building and caused an explosion according to the four instructors and 11 students who were inside at the time. No one was hurt.

This lightning caused fire serves as a reminder that we all need to be aware of the dangers of lightning. The National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) is an excellent source of information to provide that awareness. The website section on structure safety contains a wealth of information including an Overview of Global Lightning Protection Codes and Standards:

1. Summary

More than 100 published lightning protection codes and standards are in use by various countries and by agencies within countries. Some lightning protection documents present only minimum safety requirements. Others are very detailed with industry-specific and/or application-specific information. This paper describes some major codes and standards in the U.S. and elsewhere.

2. U.S. Lightning Protection Codes and Standards

The NFPA-780 "Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems" guideline first appeared in 1904 and since has undergone 26 revisions. The NFPA-780 Technical Committee has broad membership across installer, insurance, labor, manufacturing, government, special expert and other groups. While NFPA-780 has no force in law, it is generally recognized as the primary lightning protection document in the U.S. The most recent 2004 version of NFPA-780 contains significant upgrading from the earlier 2000 edition. A new Chapter 4.18 provides detailed guidance about surge protection and mandates its use with "shall be installed" language.

In the U.S. government sector, in May 2002 the Department of Energy released "M440.1-1, Electrical Storms and Lightning Protection," which describes lightning protection for explosives facilities at the relevant 81 nuclear sites in the country. The Air Force modified "AFI 32-1065 – Grounding Systems" in February 2003 to provide more detailed guidance for Air Force Space Command mission-critical operations.

Private sector lightning protection documents typically are application-specific. For example, "Motorola R-56 Standards and Guidance for Communications Sites" was revised in March 2000 from the earlier January 1994 version. Other recommended practices that are useful for the lightning protection engineer’s library include the "IEEE STD 1100, Powering and Grounding Electronic Equipment," the "IEEE STD 142, Grounding of Industrial and Commercial Power Systems," and the new December 2005 "FAA STD 019e, Lightning and Surge Protection, Grounding, Bonding and Shielding Requirements for Facilities and Electronic Equipment."

3. Other Nations’ Lightning Protection Codes and Standards

An examination of other national lightning protection documents is educational and interesting. General agreement and harmony of design recommendations is apparent. Many country codes, such as Singapore’s CP 33, Australia/New Zealand’s AS/ANZ-1786, South Africa’s SABS-03, and the Indian IS-2309, had their original heritage in the "grandfather" document from England, BS-6651. Other national standards, such as the German VDE-0185, the Chinese GB 50057, the Russian RD 34.21.122-87, and the Polish PN-86/E-05003/01, were internally generated. Two "renegade" lightning protection standards, the French NF C 17-102 and the Spanish UNE-21186 are government endorsements for unapproved, non-scientific early streamer emitter (ESE) lightning protection air terminal systems.

4. CIGRE, CENELEC and the IEC: International Resources

The "International Council on Large Electric Systems" (CIGRE) formed Section C4.4 Study Group in 2002. Six subcommittees address lightning phenomenology specific to the electric power industry worldwide. It is notable that the U.S. Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has determined 30% of U.S. annual power outages are lightning-induced at a yearly cost approaching $1 billion.

The "European Commission for Electrotechnical Standardization" (CENELEC) has worked toward European member country code standardization since 1973. It has close links with partners such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the International Organization for Standards (ISO), the American National Standards Association (ANSI), the Japan Industrial Standards Commission (JISC), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

The IEC has made final a five-part authoritative and comprehensive lightning protection standard known as the IEC 62305 Series. It represent the most significant forward movement in lightning protection applied engineering studies in 20 years. IEC 62305 addresses in detail the following subject matters:

  • Part 1 – Protection of Structures Against Lightning: General Principles
  • Part 2 – Risk Management
  • Part 3 – Physical Damage and Life Hazard
  • Part 4 – Electrical and Electronic Systems within Structures
  • Part 5 – Services (telecom, power lines, etc.)

In time the IEC 62305 lightning protection guideline will be adopted in whole, in part, or in addition to existing national lightning protection codes. Such activity already is underway in the U.K. and Singapore.

5. Conclusion

All lightning protection codes and standards are living documents, subject to change. As new and verifiable information about lightning defenses becomes understood, national and international documents will provide additional assistance and direction for safety. All of the above lightning protection citations can be "Googled" for further information.

6. Appendix

Many lightning protection documents can be acquired on-line from the following sources:

When it comes to personal lightning safety, the NLSI offers safety tips:

1. PLAN in advance your evacuation and safety measures. When you first see lightning or hear thunder, activate your emergency plan. Now is the time to go to a building or a vehicle. Lightning often precedes rain, so don’t wait for the rain to begin before suspending activities.

2. IF OUTDOORS…Avoid water. Avoid the high ground. Avoid open spaces. Avoid all metal objects including electric wires, fences, machinery, motors, power tools, etc. Unsafe places include underneath canopies, small picnic or rain shelters, or near trees. Where possible, find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully enclosed metal vehicle such as a car, truck or a van with the windows completely shut. If lightning is striking nearby when you are outside, you should:

A. Crouch down. Put feet together. Place hands over ears to minimize hearing damage from thunder.

B. Avoid proximity (minimum of 15 ft.) to other people.

3. IF INDOORS… Avoid water. Stay away from doors and windows. Do not use the telephone. Take off head sets. Turn off, unplug, and stay away from appliances, computers, power tools, & TV sets. Lightning may strike exterior electric and phone lines, inducing shocks to inside equipment.

4. SUSPEND ACTIVITIES for 30 minutes after the last observed lightning or thunder.

5. INJURED PERSONS do not carry an electrical charge and can be handled safely. Apply First Aid procedures to a lightning victim if you are qualified to do so. Call 911 or send for help immediately.


Teach this safety slogan:
"If you can see it, flee it; if you can hear it, clear it."

and information for those who are struck by lightning:

The electrical characteristics of lightning involve a complexity of current amplitudes and time durations. An 8 kA strike with 20 us duration acts differently than a 200 kA strike with a 300 us duration. The surfaces to which lightning attaches are manifold in their resistance, impedance, moisture-content and conductivity characteristics. A person wearing a wet raiNLSIcker will suffer different lightning effects than the same person in a dry bathing suit.

Eighty percent of lightning strike victims survive. But twenty five percent of survivors suffer major aftereffects. (Social and Economic Costs) Many of the aftereffects of lightning are difficult for inexperienced medical professionals to characterize. Sometimes lightning victims’ symptoms are dismissed as "fakery, whining, and imagination" by responsible agencies. Sometimes valid claims for workers compensation or other insurance are denied in error.

NLSI proposes that safety from lightning’s effects is a function of understanding the phenomenon and adopting a risk management approach to the hazard. We describe herein resource material from the medical and university communities dealing with some physiological and psychological issues of lightning casualties. As a first step to understanding lightning injuries, we suggest a study of the resources listed below.

  1. Lightning and Electrical Injuries, Parts 1 & 2, Seminars in Neurology, Vol. 15, No. 3 & 4 (Sept. & Dec. 1995), Ed. Cherington & Cooper. ISSN No. 0271-8235.
  2. Handbook of Electrical Hazards and Accidents, Leslie A. Geddes, CRC Press, ISBN No. 0-8493-9431-7.
  3. Lightning Injuries: Electrical, Medical, and Legal Aspects, Ed. Andrews, Cooper, Darveniza, & Mackerras, CRC Press, ISBN No. 0-8493-5458-7.
  4. Information:
  5. Lightning Data Center (LDC), Centura Health Care, Denver CO. LDC is a multi-facet informal group of professionals interested in lightning phenomena. LDC meets monthly. International newsletter. Tel. 303-629-4258. Email at: lightningdatacenter@centura.org
  6. Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors International (LSESSI), Jacksonville, NC. LSESSI is a membership and support group for lightning victims. Annual meeting. Newsletter. Tel. 910-346-4708. Email at: lightning@nternet.net WWW site at: http://www.mindspring.com/~lightningstrike
  7. Mary Ann Cooper, MD, Univ. Illinois at Chicago. WWW site at: http://www.uic.edu/~macooper/cindex.htm

No matter where you work, live or recreate, lightning can pose a danger and we all need to be aware and paying attention.