Safe Locations During a Lightning Storm:
No place is absolutely safe from lightning! However, some places are much safer than others...
Safe locations include large enclosed structures and enclosed vehicles. A large enclosed structure is typically a building which is occupied by people on a permanent bases, such as a shopping center, schools, office buildings or a private residence. Once in a sturdy building, stay away from metal objects (faucets, showers, pipes) and phones, unless it is an emergency (cordless phones and battery operated cell phones are safe). Computers may also be dangerous - as phone lines are often connected to them.
Not all types of buildings or vehicles are safe during thunderstorms. Examples of buildings which are NOT safe (even if they are "grounded") include beach shacks, small metal sheds, picnic shelters, baseball dugouts etc. In general, buildings which are NOT safe have exposed openings such as those mentioned above. Vehicles such as automobiles, vans, school buses, etc. offer excellent protection from lightning, however, vehicles which are NOT safe during lightning storms are convertibles. Convertibles offer no safety from lightning, even if the top is "up". Other vehicles which are not safe during lighting storms are vehicles which have "open" cabs, such as golf carts, open cab tractors/construction equipment, etc.
Lightning Safety Plan of Action:
The key to a lightning safety plan of action is knowing the answer to the following two questions: 1) how far away am I (or the group who I am responsible for) from a safe location? and 2) how long will it take me (and/or my group) to get to the safe location? These questions need to be answered before thunderstorms threaten. By knowing the answer to the above questions will greatly increase your chances of not becoming a lightning strike victim.
The following safety guidelines are broken down for individuals, small groups and large groups. It is recommended that you read all of the safety guidelines.
Safety Guidelines: For Individuals
Plan Ahead! Make sure you get the weather forecast before going out.
Carry a NOAA weather radio (which can be purchased at most electronics stores, such as Radio Shack) or a portable radio with you on your travels, especially if you will be away from sturdy shelter (such as boating, camping, etc.). This way you will always be able to get the latest forecast.
If you do go ahead with your planned outdoor activity and thunderstorms are expected, have a lightning safety plan of action in case thunderstorms threaten. Remember, the key to your safety plan is: How far away am I from a safe enclosed structure (or enclosed vehicle)? and; How long will it take me to get to this safe location if storms threaten?
It is recommended that if the time delay between you observing a flash of lightning and the rumble of thunders is half a minute (30 seconds) or less, or if thunderheads are building overhead, You should implement your lightning safety plan of action!
Remember the "Flash to Bang" method to estimate lightning from your location - If you see lightning, count the number of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five (5) to get the distance the lightning is away from you.
If you see lightning and it takes 10 seconds before you hear the thunder, then the lightning is 2 miles away from you (10 divided by 5 = 2 miles, too close!!).
It is recommended that an event should not resume until after 30 minutes after the last audible thunder.
There is one very important caveat to the above safety plans: lightning can and occasionally does strike many miles away from the rain area of a thunderstorm. In fact, lightning strikes to the ground up to 20 miles away from thunderstorm rain areas have been documented in Florida. It is believed that quite a few people who are struck by lightning are struck by these rogue flashes, known as "bolts from the blue". More information about "bolts from the blue" can be found at the end of this document.
First Aid for Lightning Strike Victims
Most people struck by lightning are not struck directly, but are affected by the current running through the ground (also known as a "sideflash"). People who are adversely affected by a lightning flash, either directly or indirectly, need prompt medical attention:
Call 911. Provide directions and information about the likely number of lightning strike victims;
The first tenet of emergency care is "make no more casualties". Any rescuer must be aware of the continuation of danger that a lightning storm poses to the rescuers as well as to the victim(s). If the area is a high risk area (mountain top, open field, etc.), it may be better that the rescuers who are in a relatively safer area wait until the danger has passed before exposing themselves.
It is relatively unusual for victims who survive a lightning strike to have major fractures that would cause paralysis or major bleeding complications unless they have suffered a fall or been thrown a distance. As a result, in an active lightning storm, if the rescuers choose to expose themselves to the lightning threat, it may be better to move the victim away from the area of risk (such as under a tree, etc.) rather than to give medical attention at the spot of the initial flash. Rescuers are reminded to stay as low as possible and provide as little area to the ground surface as possible.
If the victim is not breathing, provide mouth to mouth resuscitation . If the victim has no pulse, (check for the pulse at the carotid [neck] or femoral [knee] artery for 20 -30 seconds). then start CPR. If the area is cold and wet, putting a dry article of clothing between the victim and the ground may decrease the threat of hypothermia that the victim suffers which can complicate the resuscitation.
Other important tips
If you should catch yourself out in the open during a storm, stay away from tall, exposed objects (even if they offer shelter from the rain) or away from open areas (such as lakes, beaches, etc.). Past history has shown that many people who are struck by lightning in Florida were near water, in an exposed location, or under/near trees. If you are caught in the open and lightning is nearby, the safest position to be in is crouched down on the balls of your feet. Do not allow your hands (or other body parts) to touch the ground, and keep your feet as close to one another as possible.
Why is it important to crouch down on the balls of your feet? The reason why is that when lightning strikes an object, the electricity of the lightning discharge does not necessarily go down into the ground immediately. Quite often the electricity will travel along the surface of the ground where the flash makes contact with an object. Many people who are 'struck" by lightning are not hit directly by the flash, but are affected by this electricity of the lightning flash as it travels along the surface of the ground (this is especially true if the ground is wet). By keeping the surface area of your body relative to the ground to a minimum (that is, keep your feet together and do not allow any other part of your body to contact the ground), you can reduce the threat of the electricity traveling across the ground from affecting you.
Mariners who get caught out in a storm in a boat which does not have an enclosed cabin should get as low as possible in the center of the boat. Do not use electronic equipment (except in an emergency). Stay away from tall objects (masts, etc.). All boats should be properly grounded.