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UNLV Sports Medicine


LIGHTNING PROCEDURES

Weather Information

While the probability of being struck by lightning is low, the odds are significantly greater when a storm is in the area and proper safety precautions are not followed.

Weather information can be found through various means via local television news coverage, the internet, cable and satellite weather programming, or the National Weather Service (NWS) Web site at www.weather.gov.

Be informed of National Weather Service (NWS) issued thunderstorm "watches" or "warnings", and the warning signs of developing thunderstorms in the area, such as high winds or darkening skies. A "watch" means conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop in an area; a "warning" means that severe weather has been reported in an area and for everyone to take the proper precautions.

Safe Structures

Know where the closest "safe structure or location" is to the field or playing area, and know how long it takes to get to that safe structure or location.

Safe structure or locations is defined as:

  1. Any building normally occupied or frequently used by people, i.e., a building with plumbing and/or electrical wiring that acts to electrically ground the structure. Avoid using the shower or plumbing facilities and contact with electrical appliances during a thunderstorm.

  2. In the absence of a sturdy, frequently inhabited building, any vehicles with a hard metal roof (not a convertible or golf cart) with the windows shut provides a measure of safety. A vehicle is certainly better than remaining outdoors. The hard metal frame and roof, not the rubber tires, are what protects occupants by dissipating lightning current around the vehicle and not through the occupants. It is important not to touch the metal framework of the vehicle.

Dangerous Locations

Small covered shelters are not safe from lightning. Dugouts, rain shelters, golf shelters and picnic shelters, even if they are properly grounded for structural safety, are usually not properly grounded from the effects of lightning and side flashes to people. They are usually very unsafe and may actually increase the risk of lightning injury. Other dangerous locations include areas connected to, or near, light poles, towers and fences that can carry a nearby strike to people. Also dangerous is any location that makes the person the highest point in the area.

Lightning Awareness

Lightning awareness should be heightened at the first flash of lightning, clap of thunder, and/or other criteria such as increasing winds or darkening skies, no matter how far away. These types of activities should be treated as a warning or "wake-up call" to intercollegiate athletics personnel. Lightning safety experts suggest that if you hear thunder, begin preparation for evacuation; if you see lightning, consider suspending activities and heading for your designated safer locations.

The current recommendation by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) is to consider terminating play when the lightning is six miles away (flash-to-bang time of 30 seconds or less). This recommendation was developed as a practical way to make a judgment in situations where other resources (such as technology and instrumentation) are not available.

The flash-to-bang method is the easiest and most convenient way to estimate how far away lightning is occurring. Thunder always accompanies lightning, even though its audible range can be diminished due to background noise in the immediate environment, and its distance from the observer. To use the flash-to-bang method, count the seconds from the time the lightning is sighted to when the clap of thunder is heard. Divide this number by five to obtain how far away (in miles) the lightning is occurring. For example, if an individual counts 15 seconds between seeing the flash and hearing the bang, 15 divided by five equals three; therefore, the lightning flash is approximately three miles away.

The existence of blue sky and the absence of rain are not protection from lightning. Lightning can, and does, strike as far as 10 miles away from the rain shaft. It does not have to be raining for lightning to strike.

Avoid using landline telephones, except in emergency situations. People have been killed while using a landline telephone during a thunderstorm. Cellular phones are safe alternatives to a landline phone, particularly if the person and the antenna are located within a safer structure or location, and if all other precautions are followed.

Ultimately, UNLV Athletic Department staff members are in the best position to make decisions about modifying events in response to lightning or other weather situations. These decisions often are influenced by a variety of factors including student-athlete and spectator safety. The recommendation noted above provides a basic foundation to assess lightning safety. However, it is only one of a variety of resources, such as commercial weather warning systems or communication with the National Weather Service that can assist event managers in the assessment of weather situations.

UNLV has implemented the following policy regarding lightning safety based on NCAA and NSSL recommendations for our student-athletes and spectators.

Lightning Safety at Practices / Conditioning Sessions:

  1. The athletic department staff member on site will monitor and determine if lightning is within six miles using NSSL recommendations (flash-to-bang time of 30 seconds or less).

  2. The athletic department staff member will notify the coach/coaches that the practice/conditioning session must be suspended due to lightning.

  3. The athletic department staff member and coaches will notify the student-athletes that they must seek immediate shelter from the lightning.

    Lightning Safety at Home Games / Matches / Meets:

  4. The athletic department staff member on site will monitor and determine if lightning is within six miles using NSSL recommendations (flash-to-bang time of 30 seconds or less).

  5. The athletic department staff member will notify the official in charge of the contest (home plate umpire, referee, etc.) that the contest must be suspended due to lightning.

  6. The athletic department staff member will notify the student-athletes that they must seek immediate shelter from the lightning.

  7. The official in charge of the contest will notify the public address announcer to inform the spectators to seek immediate shelter from the lightning.

When considering resumption of an athletics activity, NSSL staff recommends that everyone should ideally wait at least 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning or sound of thunder before returning to the field or activity.

People who have been struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge. Therefore, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is safe for the responder. If possible, an injured person should be moved to a safer location before starting CPR. Lightning-strike victims who show signs of cardiac or respiratory arrest need prompt emergency help. Prompt, aggressive CPR has been highly effective for the survival of victims of lightning strikes

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