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Schools and Lightning Protection

Special Risk Factors:

What is more important than protecting our children? A lightning strike on a school not only exposes them to injury and possible death, but it can also traumatize children and parents and spawn anxiety about the school experience.

In addition to the lightning hazards typical of all building, schools often have unique risks. In the case of lightning-caused fires, for example, evacuating schools – during a thunderstorm — can be especially difficult if they have places of assembly such as auditoria and gymnasia with spectator seating, or due to the presence of pre-school, kindergarten, and special-needs students.

Communities depend on school buildings for shelter in the aftermath of disasters and expect schools to resume functioning as quickly as possible; lightning protection systems make buildings more resilient so they are there when needed. School boards also appreciate that lightning protection systems are affordable and durable, making them a prudent use of the community’s resources.

Examples:

Hempstead School Fire

 

Lightning caused a fire at the Prospect School in Hempstead, NY. It forced the district to send students to other facilities across town while extensive fire, smoke, and water damage was repaired.

Photo: Hempstead, NY Volunteer Fire Dept.

 

 

 

Design and Installation Considerations:  

Lightning protection systems require a whole-building approach in accordance with nationally-recognized standards, including LPI 175, NFPA 780, and UL 96.

The standards require strategically located air terminals (lightning rods) at high points and on the roof, ground electrodes designed for the intense surges caused by lightning, and a network of heavy-duty lightning conductors to safely conduct current between them.

To equalize electrical potential throughout the building, the building’s plumbing, HVAC, structure, and other systems must be bonded to the lightning protection system, and the lightning protection grounding must be interconnected to the groundings for the building’s electrical and other systems. In addition, surge protective devices must be added to telephone, power, and other services entering the building, and filters

Design and installation should be performed by individuals certified by the Lightning Protection Institute. For added assurance, installations should be certified by the LPI-Inspection Program to assure it functions as required. To make sure your lightning protection system remains in working order, have it inspected by a qualified lightning protection specialist every two to five years.

School administrators, teachers, and coaches must remember that their responsibility for protecting children against lightning also applies to sports practice and other outdoor activities.  As the National Weather Service and other public safety organizations urge, “When thunder roars, go indoors.” (Download a lightning safety poster here.)

 

Case Studies:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEFT: A lightning protection system protects this Amherst, MA school’s photovoltaic collectors as well as the building and its occupants. Like alternative energy systems, lightning protection is a forward-looking step towards building sustainability and resilience.  Photo: Smokestack Lightning, Inc.

RIGHT: A lightning protection system was installed during the renovation of an addition to the Wildwood Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore, MD. Photo: Dillion Lightning Protection Systems, Inc.

 

Final Thought:

Going to school buildings with lightning protection systems teaches children, by example, that safety is everyone’s business.

 

Further Information:

Lightning Protection Basics: ecle.biz/lightning-protection.

Lightning Protection Risk Assessment: ecle.biz/lightning-risk-assessment-guide.

Guide Specification: Section 26 41 00 – Facility Lightning Protection.