NATA Provides Guidelines on Lightning Safety

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DALLAS, Texas, August 13, 2014 – With news of recent lightning strikes and little to no warning, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association has reissued guidelines to ensure a safe outdoor environment.

“It is critical for those who are in charge of sports and recreational activities as well as outdoor enthusiasts to be aware of lightning danger and prepare accordingly,” said Katie Walsh Flanagan, EdD, ATC, East Carolina University, who chaired NATA’s lightning position statement writing group. “Proper preparation and notifying participants of lightning danger is critical.”

NATA 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:
  • 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.
  • Identify safe locations from lightning hazard in advance of events, such as a building or fully enclosed space (or car). Unsafe locations include shelters, picnic tables or bus stops, which are partially open to the elements. 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. Allow time for evacuation of the premises and suspend activities 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:
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. 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.

“By following the direction of medical care and safety personnel, adhering to the emergency action plan put in place, and remaining calm and organized, all outdoor enthusiasts can safely securely return to activity, adds Walsh Flanagan.”

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. There have been 19 reported lightning fatalities this year according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • 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 above guidelines are from NATA’s position statement, “Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation.” The statement was created by the NATA Research & Education Foundation to minimize risk and incidence of injury and was published in the Journal of Athletic Training, the association’s scientific publication.