Respect the power of lightning

Although deaths from lightning have declined in recent decades, it remains an underrated danger.

Lightning is the third leading cause of storm-related deaths in the U.S., exceeded only by floods and tornadoes.

Last year 28 people were killed by lightning. Most of the victims were children and young men ages 10-35 engaged in recreation or work. Precautions have no doubt played a role in the decline in lightning deaths, which in the 1940s averaged above 300 per year.

To protect against death or injury, the Lightning Protection Institute advises the following:

– Treat lightning with proper caution. If you are outside and a thunderstorm approaches, immediately seek shelter inside a fully enclosed building.

– If a building is not available, take shelter in a car with a metal top and keep doors and windows closed.

– Certain locations are extremely hazardous during thunderstorms. Avoid lakes, beaches or open water; fishing from a boat or dock; and riding on golf carts, farm equipment, motorcycles or bicycles. Never seek shelter under a tree.

– If caught outdoors, try to minimize your risk by going to a place of lower elevation. Do not, however, lie down. Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current.

According to the National Weather Service, the best way for people to protect themselves against lightning injury or death is to monitor the weather and postpone or cancel outdoor activities when thunderstorms are in the forecast. Lightning can strike from 10 miles away, so if people can hear thunder, they are in danger of being struck by lightning.

A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. Stay off the telephone. Do not stand near open windows, doorways or metal piping. Stay away from the TV, plumbing, sinks, tubs, radiators and stoves. Avoid contact with small electric appliances such as radios, toasters and hairdryers.

In 2012 alone, lightning strikes cost nearly $1 billion in insured losses, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). As the number of electronics in homes and businesses rises, so does the risk of damage.

Plasma and high-definition television sets, home entertainment centers, multiple computers, smart phones, gaming systems and other expensive devices continue to have a significant impact on the number of claims.

Insurers offer the following tips to protect your home or business:

– For protection from lightning strikes in the general area of your home or an externally produced surge, a whole-house surge protector is the best starting point for reducing the risk of damage or a fire.

– Install additional protection for important or expensive electronic equipment. This should include localized surge protection for power cords to the electronic equipment and any telephone and cable/satellite TV lines connecting to the equipment.

– Make sure all equipment is UL-listed and properly labeled.

– Lightning protection systems are designed to protect a structure and provide a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of the lightning bolt. The system neither attracts nor repels a strike, but receives the stroke and routes it harmlessly into the earth, thus discharging the dangerous electrical event. Be sure the lightning protection system is designed and installed in accordance with accepted industry standards.