Public Urged to Assist with Lightning Research Project

Oct. 13, 2009
In conjunction with Fire Prevention Week, the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) is sponsoring a research project to learn more about the ways that lightning enters and damages homes and buildings.

Packing up to 100 million volts of electricity and a force comparable to that of a small nuclear reactor, lightning has the power to rip through roofs, explode walls of brick and concrete and ignite deadly fires. The LSA is initiating the research project in an attempt to collect and analyze lightning data and is urging property owners, firefighters and insurance professionals to visit its web site at http://www.lightningsafetyalliance.org to submit information about lightning incidents, fires and damage to structures.

The LSA plans to present its findings to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and its Technical Committee on Lightning Protection, which reviews information pertaining to the NFPA 780 standard for the installation of lightning protection systems.

Lightning strikes can be direct or indirect. A direct strike to a structure typically results in resistive heating, arcing and burning, which can cause catastrophic damage to the structure and its contents. An indirect strike near a structure typically damages sensitive electronics and vulnerable building systems. In these instances, the lightning current can enter a building from a tree, fence, light pole or other nearby object. In addition, lightning can travel on underground power cables, telephone lines or metallic piping into a building.

Property owners also should be aware of lightning concerns surrounding a relatively new type of gas piping used to transmit fuel gas in homes, known as corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST), which has been found to be susceptible to damage from arcing by direct and nearby lightning strikes. In some situations, lightning has created holes in the CSST, allowing gas to leak, which has resulted in home fires.

On Sept. 15, NFPA announced the appointment of a task group to review the lightning-related technical issues affecting CSST in gas piping systems. The task group will provide the NFPA Standards Council with a review and analysis of the jurisdictional and technical issues relating to lightning and CSST in gas piping systems and identify the need for research, data and further committee action with regard to bonding, grounding and lightning protection.

“The LSA’s research initiative will be helpful in identifying specific lightning related damage patterns that could lead to enhancements in lightning protection methods,” said John Kennelly, spokesman for the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA), a nonprofit group of lightning protection professionals and consumers dedicated to the promotion of lightning protection and safety. “Lightning protection systems are critical in protecting our national infrastructure and various governmental agencies rely heavily on nationally recognized specifications for lightning protection.”

This sentiment is echoed by Mitchell Guthrie, former chair of the NFPA technical committee on Lightning Protection and current chair of the International Electrotechnical Commission Committee on Lightning Protection (IEC TC81). “There is no doubt that implementing a properly designed lightning protection system significantly reduces the probability of damage from lightning to a tolerable level for any application,” added Guthrie.

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