Lightning Dangers Emphasized During Building Safety & Electrical Safety Months
Bill Sinn | May 14, 2019
With the summer storm season just ahead, building managers and owners must be ready to protect lives and property against lightning strikes, says the Lightning Protection Institute, a not-for-profit, nationwide group dedicated to promoting lightning awareness, education and safety.
"Lightning strikes the U.S. about 25 million times a year, according to the National Weather Service, and summer is the peak season for lightning storms. That makes Building Safety Month and Electrical Safety Month, both in May, the ideal reminder to consider ways to manage lightning risk, save lives and protect property," says Bud VanSickle, LPI's executive director.
Electrical Safety Foundation International promotes Electrical Safety Month annually as a way to raise awareness of proper installation and management of electrical systems. The International Code Council's Building Safety Month campaign is designed to raise awareness about building safety.
The Insurance Information Institute reports that thunderstorms and convective weather resulted in a record-breaking $5.7 billion in claims in the first quarter of 2017. In May 2018, a single "ring-of-fire" weather system of wind, hail and rainstorms resulted in over $2.5 billion in estimated damages.
In terms of overall losses, lightning outranks destruction from fires, explosions, earthquakes and vandalism. Annually, lightning-related property losses exceed $2 billion, according to Loretta Worters, a vice president with the Insurance Information Institute.
"Lightning can cause destruction of critical data resources, downed operations and lost business," Worters says. "These potential claims can be significantly mitigated by having the proper protection systems in place."
While lightning can't be prevented, the damage can be mitigated with lightning protection systems (LPS). LPI's Build and Protect program is helping to create lightning-safe communities by encouraging architects and builders to make LPS part of the design and construction process.
"Lightning protection is an important building safety component," says VanSickle. "The payoff of including LPS in a project can be significant when you consider the cost of protecting against strikes is less than 1% of a new building's cost."
LPI is asking insurance carriers to promote LPS and offer discounts to policyholders who install them, similar to the discounts policyholders receive for installing fire and burglar alarms. Three to 5% of all commercial insurance claims involve lightning strikes, VanSickle points out.
"Unlike other natural, insurable events, lightning damage is a reliably preventable occurrence. Lightning protection -- especially when inspected and certified by the LPI Inspection Program (LPI-IP) -- is economical, prudent and proven. It saves lives and safeguards property," adds VanSickle.
How Systems Work
The National Fire Protection Association has set national lightning safety standards that LPI-certified designers, installers and inspectors follow. Certified protection systems use UL-listed materials to intercept a lightning strike and safely disperse it into the ground without impact to the structure, occupants or contents. In addition, these systems protect against electrical surges in power, data and communication lines and vulnerable appliances.
Lightning is a special concern for smart buildings and homes. One strike can damage connected devices and cause irreparable damage to sensitive equipment and data. LPS can prevent costly downtime and lost revenue when buildings are zapped.
As lightning protection systems gain widespread acceptance, VanSickle says property owners should insist on systems designed and installed by lightning protection professionals, and that those systems should be inspected and certified by a nationally accepted third party.
LPI's testing and certification program was created in 1971 by the industry to qualify competence in lightning protection. The program responds to the needs of government agencies, architectural and engineering firms and insurance underwriters to certify excellence in system design, installation and inspection.
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