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Lightning Safety for Outdoor Events

On average, lightning causes more casualties in the United States than any other storm-related phenomena, with the exception of floods. Lightning is the most frequent weather hazard impacting athletic or other outdoor events. Each person must take responsibility for his or her own personal safety during thunderstorms. However, people are often under the direction of others when participating in organized outdoor events; therefore, coaches, game officials and event organizers must understand the hazards of lightning and become familiar with proven safety strategies.

Create a Lightning Safety Policy

A lightning safety policy should be in place at every facility where outdoor events are held. The policy should be known in advance to all persons involved. The following components are recommended:

  • Develop an established chain of command that identifies who is to make the call to discharge participants and spectators from the field or from an activity
  • Create decision criteria for determining when to suspend/resume activities
  • Assign a designated weather watcher
  • Determine a means of monitoring local weather forecasts and warnings. An inexpensive portable weather radio is recommended for obtaining timely storm data; however, the sound of thunder should always be considered an immediate warning.
  • Create a list of specific safe locations for each field or site, with sufficient people in charge to route visitors and spectators to these locations
  • Post informational signs at event sites or in flyers outlining the lightning safety policy
  • Require that all personnel perform a periodic review of the lightning safety policy
  • Conduct drills

Find Safe Shelter During Lightning

The primary choice for a safe shelter from lightning is a fully enclosed building that has plumbing and electrical service. When inside a building, avoid using the telephone, taking a shower, washing hands or making any contact with conductive surfaces with exposure to the outside, such as metal door or window frames, electrical wiring, telephone wiring and plumbing fixtures.

The secondary choice for a safe place from lightning is a fully enclosed vehicle with a metal roof and closed windows. School buses are an excellent lightning shelter, if strategically placed where people can quickly access them.

Do not take shelter in the following places:

  • Under or near trees
  • Bleachers
  • Dugouts
  • Picnic shelters
  • Convertibles
  • Golf carts

When to Seek Shelter from Lightning

Apply the 30-30 Rule: When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If it is 30 seconds or less, suspend outdoor activities and seek proper shelter. Once activities have been suspended, wait 30 minutes or more after hearing the last thunder before resuming an activity or returning outdoors.

  • Read an emergency announcement over the public address system directing people to shelter
  • Place lightning safety tips and/or the emergency action plan in game programs or flyers, alerting those in attendance about what to do and where to go to find a safe location during a thunderstorm
  • Post lightning warning signs at event sites to communicate lightning threats and action plans to the general public

Large athletic events can be particularly challenging when planning for lightning safety. A comprehensive approach may be the most effective method to lessen lightning danger, such as integrating weather forecasts and real-time thunderstorm data, engaging a weather watcher, making use of lightning detection equipment and emphasizing the 30-30 rule.

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