By Scott Prater
As summer approaches, people on base can expect to hear more lightning warnings from the Schriever command post. According to the National Weather Service, lightning strikes land in Colorado an average of 500,000 times each year. More than 400 Coloradans have been killed or injured by such strikes since 1980.
However, being aware of and following lightning risk reduction guidelines can reduce the risk of injury or death.
“One of my favorite sayings is ‘when it roars, go indoors,’” said Master Sgt. Sarah Law, 50th Space Wing ground safety manager. “That is something easy my kids can remember when they are playing outside and the weather starts to get bad. As we all know, the weather here can change at a moment’s notice. Before the thunderstorm season gets into full swing, think about what you will do to make yourself safer. And don’t forget to train your children as well.”
Air Force Instruction 91-203 requires installations to follow a two-tier notification system concerning lightning. A lightning watch is in effect 30 minutes prior to thunderstorms existing within a 5-nautical-mile radius of any predetermined location or activity as forecasted by the supporting Air Force weather organization. During a lightning watch, operations or activities may continue; however, all personnel must be prepared to implement lightning warning procedures without delay.
A lightning warning is in effect when lightning occurs within a 5-mile radius of a predetermined location or activity. Personnel in affected locations or engaged in affected activities shall cease all outside activity and seek shelter.
The best places on base to seek shelter, according to the NWS, are in permanent, enclosed buildings.
Tech. Sgt. Israel Lerma, 50th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical section NCO in charge, said most permanent buildings on base are equipped with lightning protection systems, namely air terminals, which are mounted on rooftops.
“Take Building 210 for example,” Lerma said. “It’s easy to spot the air terminals situated along its perimeter. These terminals are connected to copper wires that divert electrical current into the ground. They are installed by contractors during construction, but must be inspected and maintained by 50 CES electrical section members periodically. Building 210 has more than 100 air terminals.”
Though lightning protection systems serve to protect buildings, no system is full proof. During periods of strong lightning activity, people should avoid using corded telephones, electrical units like TVs and computers and stay away from windows and plumbing fixtures.
Still, permanent structures provide much better protection for people than remaining outdoors and in open areas.
“When lightning is detected or observed within the immediate vicinity of any activity or operation, do not go outdoors or remain outside,” Law said. “Seek shelter in dwellings or buildings, protected underground shelters, enclosed automobiles, buses, aircraft and other vehicles with metal tops and bodies. Certain areas are extremely dangerous during thunderstorms and should be avoided; hilltops and ridges, areas on top of buildings, open fields, parking lots, athletic fields, swimming pools, lakes, wire fences, clotheslines, overhead wires and isolated trees.”
People shouldn’t be complacent simply because they’ve never seen lightning strike on base. Lerma said 50 CES electrical section members have found and repaired burn damage to street lights and electrical ballasts from lightning strikes on more than a few occasions.
For more information on lightning safety tips and advice, contact the 50 SW safety office at 567-7233.