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Exposing the Leading Risk Related to Lightning Strikes

July 17, 2020 Joanie Arrott

With up to 100 million volts of electricity, a bolt of lightning has the power to destroy roofs, explode walls of brick and concrete, and ignite deadly fires. Since April 2014, Fund Property program members have reported over $524,000 in losses resulting from lightning strikes. The fallout includes destroyed equipment, fire damage, operational interruptions, and inventory loss. 

Most buildings, particularly those of contemporary design, are vulnerable to lightning damage because they have multiple service entrances, use isolated metal building components, and store costly technological equipment. In addition to property loss, lightning damage to communication lines and computer equipment can result in extended downtime for schools.

Front-line defense

Lightning strikes about 25 million times each year in the United States, according to the National Weather Service. Electrical surges are the immediate and main lightning-related risk to facilities due to their destructive impact on electrical systems and equipment. Repeated strikes can produce electrical noise or intermittent power spikes, which can have long-term impacts on a facility’s electrical infrastructure.

While Fund members cannot prevent storms, they can reduce the risk of electrical surges resulting from lightning strikes by implementing a holistic and robust surge protection system. Surges can also originate internally from electrical equipment, utility lines, or shared systems. A properly sized and installed surge protection system prevents losses from internal and external sources by diverting high-current surges so they bypass valuable equipment.

Surge protection systems consist of rated surge protection devices (SPDs) that match the electrical equipment they will protect and are installed as close to the equipment as possible. As front-line defense against surges, SPDs’ performance deteriorates over time, so they must be replaced regularly. However, the cost of replacing SPDs is substantially less than replacing electrical equipment. In addition, it facilitiates continuity of operations.    

How surge protection works

Surge protection equipment, like all electrical equipment, should be inspected, installed, and maintained by qualified staff such as a licensed electrician. The process starts with a grounding assessment of each facility. All outlets will be inspected during the assessment. If the grounding system does not support additional surge protection, it must be enhanced before SPDs can be installed. Reference the National Electrical Code for information on electrical system grounding and SPD installation.

Remember that surges can originate internally and externally, so protection systems should be implemented holistically. Properly designed zones of protection ensure SPDs are appropriately selected and matched based on the facility’s electrical system, taking into account every piece of equipment in use.

Zones, or layers, of protection work together to reduce the impact of electrical surges:

  • Zone 1 is at the utility line service entrance to the facility, using the most robust SPD to protect against external surges.
  • Zone 2 is located inside the facility, near valuable equipment susceptible to surges, such as the fire panel, breaker boxes, and transformers.
  • Zone 3, which includes wall outlets and other point-of-use locations, protects end-user equipment.      

Buyer beware

Electrical energy has the power to destroy equipment and cause serious and fatal injuries. It is critical that organizations work with qualified staff or expert vendors to manage risk. Quality equipment is also important. Surge protection equipment should be tested and recognized by Underwriters Laboratories, meaning the equipment has appropriate markings and proven expectations.

Avoid potential coverage issues

Fund Property program members that suffer damage after lightning strikes in their area should file a claim immediately so our team can send the proper damage verification forms to you. We also advise you to ask contractors to photograph lightning damages to assist our adjusters. Members who need guidance on property-related risks can contact your risk solutions consultant.

Tagged: "severe weather", "weather safety"