Lightning is the most consistent and significant weather hazard that may affect intercollegiate athletics. Within the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimate that 40 fatalities and about 10 times that many injuries occur from lightning strikes every year. NOAA estimates that as many as 62 percent of lightning strike fatalities occur during outdoor organized sport activities. While the probability of being struck by lightning is low, the odds area significantly greater when a storm is in the area and proper safety precautions are not followed.
Lightning is a widespread danger to the physically active population, in part because of the prevalence of afternoon to early evening thunderstorms from late spring to early fall and the outdoor physical activities during those times. No location in the United States is safe from lightning. People living in areas with less thunderstorm activity need to be particularly attentive when lightning does occur because they may ordinarily be less aware of the potential threat. This includes the tendency for lightning in the western US to occur without concurrent heavy rain.
On average, 25 million lightning flashes strike the ground each year in the United States. All individuals, particularly leaders in athletics, should appreciate the lightning hazard, learn the published lightning-safety guidelines, act prudently, and encourage safe behavior in others. Each person should also ensure his or her own safety when a lightning hazard is present.
Education and prevention are the keys to lightning safety. Prevention should begin long before any intercollegiate athletics event or practice occurs by being proactive and having a lightning safety plan in place. The following steps are recommended to mitigate the lightning hazard.
Lightning-Specific Emergency Action Plan
The use of lightning safety slogans to simplify and summarize essential information and knowledge should be promoted.
"When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!"
"If you see it, flee it; if you can hear it, clear it."
"No Place Outside is Safe When Thunderstorms Are in The Area!"
"Half An Hour Since Thunder Roars, Now It's Safe To Go Outdoors!"
These slogans reflect the fact that upon the first sound of thunder, lightning is likely within eight to 10 miles and capable of striking your location.
No punishment or retribution should be applied to someone who chooses to evacuate if perceiving that his or her life is in danger due to severe weather.
Before each event, a specific person (a weather watcher) who is responsible for actively looking for threatening weather will monitor threatening weather and will notify the chain of command who can make the decision to remove a team, game personnel, television crews, and spectators from an athletics site or event. That person must have recognized and unchallengeable authority to suspend activity.
A chain of command that identifies a specific person (or role) who is to make the decision to remove individuals from the field or activity must be established. The athletic trainer will make the decision at practices. Strength and conditioning will make the determination during conditioning sessions if there is no athletic trainer present. The head coach will make the determination at practices if there is no athletic trainer present. Game operations will make the determination at competitions.
Planned instructions/announcements for participants and spectators, designation of warning and all clear signals, proper signage, and designation of safer places from the lightning hazard.
In the event of impending thunderstorms, those in control of outdoor events should fulfill their obligation to warn participants and guests of the lightning danger.
Lightning and General Weather Awareness
Daily monitoring of local weather reports before any practice or event, and a reliable and accurate source of information about severe weather that may form during scheduled intercollegiate athletics events or practices should be undertaken.
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 the risk of a hazardous weather event is significantly increased, but its presence, location, or timing is unclear; the purpose is to provide enough time to set plans in motion. A "warning" means that hazardous weather (i.e., conditions posing a threat to life or property) is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring and for everyone to take the proper precautions.
It should be noted that neither watches nor warnings are issued for lightning.
Safer locations from the lightning hazard will be identified in advance of the event for each venue.
Safer structure or locations is defined as:
1. Any fully enclosed building normally occupied or frequently used by people, with plumbing and/or electrical wiring that acts to electrically ground the structure. Avoid using the shower, plumbing facilities, and electrical appliances, and stay away from open windows and doorways 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. 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. Some athletics events rent school buses as safer locations to place around open courses or fields.
Know where the closest "safer structure or location" is to the field or playing area, and know how long it takes to get to that safer structure or location. Safer locations or structures at UNLV during athletic activities include the Lied Athletic Complex (LAC), the McDermott Physical Education (MPE), the Fertitta Tennis Complex, the Miller Soccer Building, the Thomas & Mack Center (TMC), the Cox Pavilion, the Mendenhall Center and Sam Boyd Stadium (SBS). These locations must be identified before the event and the participants and spectators must be informed of them. Access to these buildings during outdoor activities must be assured. These buildings must hold all individuals affected by the lightning hazard, including participants and spectators. All individuals must be completely within an identified safer location when thunderstorms are already producing lightning and approaching the immediate location.
Small covered shelters are not safe from lightning. Dugouts, rain shelters, golf shelters, picnic shelters and storage sheds even if they are properly grounded for structural safety, are usually not properly grounded from the effects of lightning and side flashes to people. Locations with open areas, such as tents, dugouts, refreshment stands, press boxes, and open garages are not safe from a lightning hazard. 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, trees, towers and fences that can carry a nearby strike to people. Large bodies of water, including indoor and outdoor swimming pools, are unsafe areas. Also dangerous is any location that makes the person the highest point in the area.
Injuries have been reported to people inside a building who were using plumbing or wiring. Avoid using the shower or plumbing facilities and contact with electrical appliances during a thunderstorm. Close proximity to sinks, indoor swimming pools, locker rooms, appliances and electronics can be unsafe.
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 cell phone are located within a safer structure or location, and if all other precautions are followed.
Criteria for Postponement and Resumption of Activities
If thunder can be heard, lightning is close enough to be a hazard, and people should go to a safer location immediately. Postpone or suspend activities if a thunderstorm appears imminent before or during activity.
Upon the first sound of thunder, lightning is likely within eight to 10 miles and capable of striking your location. Please note that thunder may be hard to hear if there is an athletic event going on, particularly in stadiums with large crowds. Lightning can strike from blue sky and in the absence of rain. At least 10 percent of lightning occurs when there is no rainfall and when blue sky is often visible somewhere in the sky, especially with summer thunderstorms. Lightning can, and does, strike 10 (or more) miles away from the rain shaft. Be aware of local weather patterns and review local weather forecasts prior to an outdoor practice or event.
Although it is possible to see lightning without hearing its thunder, thunder never occurs in the absence of lightning. The audible range of thunder is about 10 miles but can be more or less depending on local conditions.
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.
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.
To resume athletics activities, lightning safety experts recommend waiting 30 minutes after both the last sound of thunder and last flash of lightning. A useful slogan is "half an hour since thunder roars, now it's safe to go outdoors." At night, be aware that lightning can be visible at a much greater distance than during the day as clouds are being lit from the inside by lightning. This greater distance may mean that the lightning is no longer a significant threat. At night, use both the sound of thunder and seeing the lightning channel itself to decide on re-setting the 30-minute "return-to-play" clock before resuming outdoor athletics activities.
A specific lightning-safety plan for large-scale events should be established and include the components of the EAP for lightning.
The plan should include the following items:
*Use a reliable weather-monitoring system to determine whether to cancel or postpone activity before the event begins. Continuous monitoring of the weather should occur during the event.
*Means to prevent spectators from entering an outdoor venue when the event is suspended to lightning.
*Identification of enough close-proximity substantial buildings and vacant, fully enclosed metal vehicles to hold all individuals affected by the lightning hazard, including participants and spectators.
*Ensure a safe and orderly evacuation from the venue with planned announcements for participants and spectators, signage, safety information in programs, and entrances that can also serve as mass exits. *Planning should account for the time it takes to move a team and crowd to their designated safer locations. Individuals should not be allowed to enter the outdoor venue and should be directed to the safer location.
Emergency care protocols
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. Call 911. Prompt, aggressive CPR has been highly effective for the survival of victims of lightning strike. Automatic external defibrillators (AED's) are a safe and effective means of reviving persons in cardiac arrest. Planned access to early defibrillation should be part of your emergency plan. However, CPR should never be delayed while searching for an AED.