Lightning safety tips

Following proven safety guidelines can greatly reduce the risk of injury or death from lightning strikes. The following tips are provided by the American Meteorological Society and the National Lighting Safety Institution.

Safe places

No place is absolutely safe from a lightning threat; however, some places are safer than others:

  • During a lightning storm, find shelter in a substantial building or a motor vehicle (windows closed).
  • Large enclosed structures (substantially constructed buildings) tend to be much safer than smaller or open structures.
  • When indoors, avoid use of the telephone, taking a shower, washing your hands, doing dishes, or any contact with conductive surfaces with exposure to the outside such as metal door or window frames, electrical wiring, telephone wiring, cable TV wiring, plumbing, etc.
  • Fully enclosed metal vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses, vans or other fully enclosed vehicles provide good shelter from lightning when the windows are rolled up. Avoid contact with metal or conducting surfaces outside or inside the vehicle.
  • Avoid being in or near high places and open fields, isolated trees, unprotected gazebos, rain or picnic shelters, baseball dugouts, communications towers, flagpoles, light poles, bleachers (metal or wood), metal fences, convertibles, golf carts, water (ocean, lakes, swimming pools, rivers, etc.).
  • If you are caught outside in a lightning storm, stay clear of trees or canopies. Crouch down, put your feet together and cover your ears to limit possible hearing damage. Keep at least 15 feet away from other people.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Stay off the phone unless you need to make an emergency phone call.
  • Don't shower during a monsoon storm - lightning can pass through metal pipes.

Safety guidelines

If the time delay is less than 30 seconds between seeing lightning flash and hearing a thunderclap, you should go inside, or seek a safe location.
  • Generally speaking, if you can see lightning and/or hear thunder, you are already at risk.
  • Suspend outdoor activities whenever you see lightning or hear thunder. Avoid water, high ground, open spaces and all metal objects.
  • Louder or more frequent thunder indicates that lightning is approaching, thus increasing the risk for lightning injury or death.
  • If the time delay between seeing the flash (lightning) and hearing a thunderclap is less than 30 seconds, you should be in, or seek a safe location (see above).
  • High winds, rainfall, and cloud cover often act as precursors to actual cloud-to-ground strikes notifying individuals to take action.
  • Many lightning casualties occur as a storm approaches, because people ignore these precursors. Also, many lightning casualties occur after the perceived threat has passed.
  • Wait at least 30 minutes after a lightning storm has passed to resume outdoor activities.

Generally, the lightning threat diminishes with time after the last sound of thunder, but may persist for more than 30 minutes. When thunderstorms are in the area but not overhead, the lightning threat can exist even when it is sunny and not raining.

When available, pay attention to weather warning devices such as weather radio and/or credible lightning detection systems, especially if you are a school teacher, camp counselor, coach, lifeguard or otherwise responsible for the safety of others. Evacuation times are longer for groups.

Resuscitation of lightning victims

Most people actually can survive an encounter with lightning, especially with timely medical treatment. People struck by lightning do not carry a charge and it is safe to touch them to render medical treatment.

First, if a phone is available, call 911 to provide directions and information about the likely number of victims.

If the area where the victim is located is a high risk area (mountain top, isolated tree, open field, etc.) with a continuing thunderstorm, rescuers may be placing themselves in significant danger and are cautioned to minimize their exposure to lightning as much as possible.

If the victim is not breathing, start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

  • Apply first aid procedures to lightning victims (if you are trained and qualified to administer first aid). They will not carry an electrical charge and can be handled safely. Call 911 or send for medical assistance.
  • If it is decided to move the victim, give a few quick breaths prior to moving them.
  • Determine if the victim has a pulse by checking the pulse at the carotid artery (side of the neck) or femoral artery (groin) for at least 20 to 30 seconds.
  • If no pulse is detected, start cardiac compressions as well.
  • In situations that are cold and wet, putting a protective layer between the victim and the ground may decrease the hypothermia that the victim suffers which can further complicate the resuscitation.
  • In wilderness areas and those far from medical care, prolonged basic CPR is of little use: the victim is unlikely to recover if they do not respond within the first few minutes.
  • If the pulse returns, the rescuer should continue ventilation with rescue breathing if needed for as long as practical in a wilderness situation.

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