NATA Issues Position Statement on Lightning Safety

Monday, March 18, 2013

DALLAS, Texas, March 18, 2013 – With the start of spring and summer just around the corner many people will head outdoors to enjoy recreational and sports activities. Along with the joys of fresh air and warmer weather comes the threat of thunderstorms and lightning, and there are clear steps everyone can take to ensure a safe environment. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s new position statement, “Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation,” was created by the NATA Research & Education Foundation to minimize risk and incidence of injury. It is published in the March 2013 Journal of Athletic Training, the association’s scientific publication.
March is National Athletic Training Month with the theme “Every Body Needs an Athletic Trainer.”
“All individuals, particularly those who are in charge of sports and recreational activities, should be aware of the hazards, establish and follow appropriate guidelines and ensure that those around them do so,” said Katie Walsh, EdD, ATC, East Carolina University, who chaired the position statement writing group. “Proper preparation and notifying participants of lightning danger is critical.”
Key Statistics:
  • During the last decade, lightning was responsible for an average of 42 fatalities yearly in the U.S. and an estimated 10 times as many injuries.
  • Data from 2005 indicated that approximately 15 percent of lightning casualties occurred during organized sports and an additional 25 to 30 percent resulted from recreational activities.
  • The National Weather Service reports more recent data from 2010-2011, with 48 percent and 62 percent of lightning fatalities attributed to sport and recreation, respectively.
The new position statement encourages proper lightning safety policies for coaches, athletic trainers, parents, administrators and others involved in athletic or recreational activities:
1. Establish a lightning-specific emergency action plan for each venue, including the following elements:
  • Promote National Weather Service lightning safety slogans such as “No Place Outside is Safe When Thunderstorms are in the Area” or “Half an Hour Since Thunder Roars, Now it’s Safe to Go Outdoors.”
  • Establish a chain of command that identifies a specific person to make decisions to remove individuals from the field.
  • Use a reliable means of monitoring the local weather.
  • Identify safe locations from lightning hazard in advance of events; such as a building where people live or work or a fully enclosed space (or car). Be aware of unsafe locations such as shelters, picnic tables or bus stops, which are partially open to the elements. Other unsafe venue such as towers or trees can also be targets for lighting. Know how long it will take to get to the safe venues and plan accordingly.
  • Identify specific criteria for suspending and resuming activity, and allow time for evacuation of the premises. Activities should be suspended until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike or sound of thunder.
2. Ensure lightning and general weather awareness: Use a designated weather watcher and the National Weather Service to monitor local weather: consider subscribing to a commercial, real-time lightning detection service that has been independently verified so you can determine how far away a storm is and when it is best to go inside.
3. Prepare large venue planning protocols: Specific lightning safety plans should be established for large-scale events. Use a reliable weather monitoring system; direct spectators to the nearest safe place; identify enough close-proximity locations; ensure a safe and orderly evacuation, and consider the time necessary to move a large crowd in and out of the facility.
4. Provide first aid: Rescuers and emergency personnel must ensure their own safety before venturing out into the venue to provide aid. Once there, move patients to a safe location if needed and evaluate and treat them accordingly. If an AED is available, it should be used on anyone who appears unconscious or pulseless.
Thunderstorms and the threat of lighting is particularly prevalent from afternoon to early evening from late spring to early fall. That’s when 90 percent of casualties occur, with July being the highest month of incidence, according to the researchers. Areas with the most lightning activity are Florida, the Gulf states, the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, the front range of the Southern Rocky Mountains and parts of the Southwest.
It is important to communicate to everyone involved in an outdoor activity that safety comes first.  There is no penalty or repercussion if they feel danger is impending and prefer to seek a safe location, according to Walsh.
“Lighting is the most dangerous and frequently encountered thunderstorm hazard that most people experience very year,” added Walsh. “By following these protocols and remaining calm and orderly, with an emergency plan in place, all outdoor enthusiasts can return to activity in a safe and secure manner.”
About NATA: National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) – Health Care for Life & Sport
Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses. They prevent and treat chronic musculoskeletal injuries from sports, physical and occupational activity, and provide immediate care for acute injuries. Athletic trainers offer a continuum of care that is unparalleled in health care. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 35,000 members of the athletic training profession.