WEB EXCLUSIVE: Lightning Safety Best Practices

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This web exclusive from Don Leick is presented as a reminder that National Weather Service Lightning Awareness Week, June 19-25, is just around the corner.

Now is a good time to review how you protect against lightning death or injury and other severe weather events. Whether dealing with outdoor work areas, loading docks, or sports and entertainment venues, lightning is a serious safety issue.

Unfortunately, many misconceptions persist when it comes to lightning safety. Contrary to the common belief, the so-called “flash-to-bang” method—determining the distance of a storm by counting the time between the lightning flash and the sound of thunder—is not a safe or accurate method. Not only can lightning strike as far as 10 miles away from the storm cell, but this way of predicting the distance of a storm is highly inaccurate when multiple flashes occur at the same time. And it requires that you are able to hear the thunder, which may be an issue due to prevailing wind direction or terrain.

When it comes to safety, having access to real-time lightning information is the only way to know for certain where dangerous lightning is occurring and whether it will put your operations at risk. This approach involves automatic alerts when lightning is within a specified distance of your location. These alerts based on observed lightning are the preferred method for lightning safety for businesses.

Telvent’s MxVision WeatherSentry® Online Professional Package is a web-based weather service that tracks lightning strike locations and communicates alerts within 30 seconds of the occurrence. Alerts are sent via text message or e-mail, and high-resolution maps display strikes in real time for fms, giving them enough advanced notice to evacuate people safely and efficiently.

As a facility manager (fm), safety is a high priority. To help you make the right choice quickly, automated lightning advisories and warning alerts should be based on criteria that your organization has previously defined and that best meet the needs of your operation and required evacuation time. For example, advisory alerts might be issued when lightning is within 30 miles of your location, putting you on watch that lightning may be a danger.

Warning alerts are commonly issued when lightning occurs within eight miles. When the storm has passed, an all-clear countdown and notification of when your outdoor activities can be resumed safely—typically 30 minutes after the last strike has occurred—can be sounded.

In addition to radar and National Weather Service bulletins, facility managers should seek out tools that allows them to overlay current lightning strikes, see future radar, and view other storm tracking tools to inform their decisions. A display interface that can be accessed through a PC or mobile phone, can give fms the most convenient access to the information they need.

Automated lightning advisories and warning alerts should be designed to assure maximum safety, but they should also increase operational efficiencies by avoiding false alarms and by providing unambiguous action alerts when danger is indeed present. This type of critical data will allow fms to focus their attention on what is most important: successful evacuation if needed and resuming activities safely and quickly when the storm has passed.

Leick is a senior product manager at Telvent and is responsible for all aspects of WeatherSentry and other weather products. He has more than 25 years experience in software and technology companies, the last 15 in product management.

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