Policy and Procedure Development – Lightning Safety

19 Apr

If you were to research lawsuits and investigations into sports injuries, the programs that have written protocols, policies and procedures fare the best.  Writing and following these plans protect the athletic program and employees.

One of the first things that ATs establish written protocols and policies covering everything from Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) with the school/team physician to communication between the coaches and AT staff. 

Lightning Safety Procedures

Lightning is an awesome display of the power of nature.  According to the National Weather Service, lightning and tornadoes are responsible for 57 deaths per year based on a 30 year average.  Lightning was also responsible for $6.6 billion of damages in 2009.  With high incidences of deaths, injuries and damage, it is important for school districts to develop a lightning safety protocol.

This safety protocol should have several points of emphasis:

1.  Determine when to clear an outdoor venue of all spectators, athletes, officials and coaches.  Some state athletic associations have rules already in place.  The general rule right now is “If you hear it, clear it.”  Meaning if you hear thunder, clear the athletic fields of ALL people.

2.  Determine who is responsible for each team to clear fields.  During practices, it should be the head coach who makes that decision.  The coach may enlist other help since they may be involved in practice and may not be aware of the weather several miles away, but they are ultimately responsible to clear the fields in a safe manner and time frame.  During games, it may be the officials who make the call and not the coach.  The coach and school administration should be aware of the weather forecast and proactively speak with the officials before the game about the threat of weather and determine a plan of action then.

3. Know where to go. Once the decision is made by the responsible person at the sound of thunder, it must be made clear where everyone needs to go to safely ride out the storm.  This will be particular for each outdoor venue.  It is imparitive that there is adequate room to safely house ALL the people at the game.  The host school is responsible for the safety of their own athletes as well as the opposing team.  Make sure the “safe house” has enough room for both teams, coaches, game staff and officials as well as all spectators.  Spectators may choose to ride out the lightning storm elsewhere, but they must have the choice of a safe venue to go to.  A “safe house” should have 4 substantial walls with electrical and/or plumbing.  The electrical and plumbing will ground the building so that in the event of a lightning strike, lightining is directed through the wires and pipes to the ground shielding the people inside.  A car is the next safest place to be, although not ideal.  The steel frame of the car cages the occupants from direct lightning strikes as long as they aren’t in direct contact with the metal frame.

4.  Know when to safely return outdoors.  The protocol must establish when to return outdoors and what school official makes the call to return outside.  The general rule currently is to wait 30 minutes from the last sound of thunder to return.  This means with every new clap of thunder, the 30 minute clock is restarted.

Lightning and thunder is fascinating, powerful, mezmerizing and dangerous.  It is important that all school districts establish a sound written protocol to prevent senseless injury and occasional deaths to athletes and spectators.  It is even more important that the administration to use the protocol to educate the coaches and players in the event of lightning in the area on how to clear the area safely.

This blog entry is by no means a definitive authority on lightning safety and protocols.  This entry is an opinion piece based on my experiences with developing lightning protocols.

Here is a list of good lightning safety websites:

The Weather Channel – understand the science and dangers of lightning

Dr. Mary Cooper – Renowned lightning expert

NOAA Lightning Safety – excellent site for statistics

 

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