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Nothing kills like lightning

July 9, 2012
The Daily News

We've had our share of wild weather lately. There has been extreme heat, bone-dry conditions, thunderstorms and high winds.

Each has its own danger, but nothing kills like lightning.

During the past 30 years, lightning killed an average of 67 people per year in the United States, more than tornadoes or hurricanes.

To help prevent death and injuries, National Weather Service officials have issued the following lightning safety tips:

- If a thunderstorm threatens, go quickly inside a completely enclosed building, not a carport, open garage or covered patio. If no enclosed building is convenient, get inside a hard-topped all-metal vehicle.

- Do not take shelter under a tree.

- Avoid being the tallest object in the area. If only isolated trees are nearby, crouch on the balls of your feet in the open, keeping twice as far away from a tree as it is tall.

- Avoid leaning against vehicles. Get off bicycles and motorcycles.

- Get out of the water, off the beach and out of small boats or canoes. If caught in a boat, crouch down in the center of the boat away from metal hardware. Avoid standing in puddles of water, even if wearing rubber boots.

- Stay away from wire fences, metal clothes lines, exposed sheds and electrically conductive objects. Do not use metal objects like golf clubs, fishing rods, tennis rackets or tools.

- Do not use corded phones.

- Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. If you plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.

- Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes.

- Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

- Do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls.

- Stop tractor work, especially when the tractor is pulling metal equipment in an open field.

- If you are outside in rainy or moist conditions and you feel a charge; if your hair stands straight on end or your skin immediately tingles, lightning may about to strike. Squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible, and minimize your contact with the ground.

Lightning also causes millions of dollars in damage each year.

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) urges home and business owners to protect their property from lightning strikes.

"Lightning strikes are one of the major sources of external power surges that can severely damage electronic equipment and cause fires - either of which can be a huge disruption to a family or business," said Julie Rochman, IBHS president & CEO. "Fortunately, relatively simple, inexpensive steps can be taken to substantially reduce the chances of lightning-related destruction and interruptions."

For lightning protection, a whole-house/building surge protector is the best starting point for reducing the risk of damage. The utility company may provide and install whole-building surge protection systems. If not, consult a licensed electrician about having one installed.

It is important to note that a whole house/building surge protector will not protect against a direct lightning strike.

Lightning protection systems are designed to protect a structure and provide a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of a lightning bolt.

The system works by receiving the strike and routing it harmlessly into the ground thus discharging the dangerous electrical event.

IBHS recommends that lightning protection systems be installed by a UL listed installer and meet the requirements of NFPA 780 and Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) Standards.

In addition to whole-building surge protection, IBHS strongly recommends the following:

- Unplug electronic equipment. It is the most reliable means of protecting that equipment from a power surge.

- Know the important difference between a surge suppressor and a power strip. A power strip plugs into your wall outlet and allows you to plug in multiple electronic devices. However, a power strip does not protect equipment from being damaged by a power spike. A surge protector also gives the user the ability to plug in multiple electronic devices, but it also serves another very important function in that it also protects your electronic devices from a power spike.

- Connect telephone, cable/satellite TV and network lines to a surge suppressor.

- Make sure the surge suppressor has an indicator light so you know it is working properly.

- Ensure the surge suppressor has been tested to UL 1449.

- Look for a surge suppressor with a clamping voltage rating (voltage at which the protector will conduct the electricity to ground) between 330 volts, which is typical, to 400 volts.

- Purchase a surge suppressor with a response time less than 1 nanosecond.

- Do not cut corners. You don't want to protect a $1,000 television or computer system with a $10 surge protector, for $25 and up you can provide much better protection.

- Have a licensed electrician or home/building inspector review the power, telephone, electrical and cable/satellite TV connections to your building. Have them check to make sure that you have adequate grounding of the power line connection and your power distribution panel. All of the utilities should enter the structure within 10 feet of the electrical service entrance ground wire and be bonded to that grounding point.



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