Why Schools Need Lightning Detectors

On May 6, 2015 two spectators of a high school soccer game were struck by lightning. On this particular occasion, the grandparents of Pocohontos Middle School in Henrico County, Virginia were lucky in that they survived the lightning strike.

Sadly in the same year, Francois Clarence was not so lucky when lightning struck at his school. Francois, 17 years old, was playing field hockey at his school in Witbank, about 80 miles from Johannesburg, South Africa. Francois had been directly hit while running across a playing field, and although he was rushed to hospital, he tragically passed away shortly after as a result of being struck.

In Washington DC some years ago, a lightning bolt struck a crowd of students and adults watching a lacrosse game at St. Albans School. Ten were seriously injured and one 15 year old teenager lost his life.

Every year where weather conditions can include the threat of thunderstorms, lightning strikes property on or near schools and outdoor sports playing fields. Not all direct lightning strikes will result in death, but between 2006 and 2013, there were 29 lightning caused fatalities while the victims were engaged in sports. These activities included soccer, baseball and football as well as team practices.

Lightning Detectors At Schools

The importance of a lightning detector at schools where lightning is a risk cannot be stressed enough. Between 2006 and 2013, according to the National Weather Service, NOAA, about 20% of lightning fatalities were males and females of high school age or younger. Many children and young people are not aware of the risks of thunderstorms and will continue to engage in outdoor activities even as storms approach.

Even while being supervised, school aged children (as well as spectators) can still be at risk when schools do not have adequate lightning detection systems in place. All schools should have a safety plan that includes policies and procedures when thunderstorms are close by. Having advance warning that a permanently installed lightning detector can provide gives school officials, coaches and supervisors knowledge that can help to avert tragedies while students are engaged in outdoor activities.

Every outdoor school event such as sports, practices and outdoor games should include at least one person designated as a storm monitor who has authority to postpone or cancel the event and instruct those in attendance to take cover when lightning becomes a risk. The advantages of having a lightning detector such as the SkyScan Field-Pro are that it can provide the designated monitors with helpful information including:

  • Distance of detected strikes (0-3, 3-8, 8-20 and 20-40 miles)
  • Visual alerts which can be seen several hundred feet away
  • Audible horn which can be heard over a half a mile away
  • Dual antenna technology for high accuracy

Portable Lightning Detectors At Schools

Schools including other educational institutions such as colleges and universities should also consider portable lightning detectors. Often, students are taken on field trips to locations where lightning detection systems don’t exist but the threat of lightning still exists. Outdoor activities including camping, hiking, nature excursions and other pursuits are often engaged in or arranged through schools.

Those who are supervising these types of activities should have full safety and emergency training which includes knowledge of the risks of thunderstorms. Supervisors should have safety procedures to follow when lightning is detected. A portable lightning detector will provide early warning and give supervisors time to direct those under their care to safe cover and reduce the risk of a lightning strike tragedy.

At SkyScan USA, we can help you select the models of lightning detectors that are right for your school’s needs. During the seasons when outdoor sports activities are common and lightning is a risk, make sure students and others involved have the advance warning they need to make wise decisions that will prevent a lightning strike tragedy.



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