Rules to Remember When Lightning Strikes


With spring finally upon us and outdoor activities heating up, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association came out with new safety guidelines this month for severe weather. These guidelines are based on research.

Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR’s host Ray Horner about these important guidelines. We talked about prevention tactics to avoid catastrophic injuries from lightning strikes, as well as what steps to take if a problem or emergency occurs.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.

Horner: 1590 WAKR, 8:52 a.m., glad to have him back with us, Dr. Joe Congeni (applause), Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. Joe, a lot of outdoor activities, the Little Leagues, you’ve got soccer, you’ve got, you kno, lacrosse, baseball, softball, and you said there are new rules pertaining to lightning out.

Dr. Congeni: Yeah, I think you hit most of them there. There’s a lot going on in the spring. It’s fun, everybody’s got a bounce in their step. It’s good that we’re finally here.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

But, you know, the athletic trainers end up facing a lot of [tough] decisions when we get severe weather problems. So, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association came out with new guidelines, April of 2013. That’s pretty updated, right? This month. So, I just wanted to go over a couple points from the NATA new guidelines.

Like anything else now, they want all the guidelines to be related to research. So, they looked back over the last decade. We average in the United States about 42 deaths a year from lightning. About 50 to 60 percent of those occur at an outdoor recreational or sports activity — more than half of those 42.

Something else that was interesting in the research, about 30 percent of people who died in a lightning strike [sought] shelter under a tree. People still are doing that and that’s not the place to seek shelter, obviously.

So, what we want to do to deal with this in the NATA plan is first of all, everything’s always about prevention for catastrophic injuries like this. So, everybody at a school or in a sports team needs to have a safety plan in advance. You need to know what [you’re] going to do when bad weather occurs — ‘cause it’s going to occur.

Part of that is a monitoring plan. How are we going to know if there’s going to be severe weather — thunderstorms, lightning coming through? So, you need to have somebody designated because the coach and the manager and everybody else are going to be paying attention to the game.

[You need] somebody who is in charge of watching the weather and knows what they are going to use to monitor the weather. I know we’ve lived through the days of the lightning meters and things like that. Now, most of the time it’s somebody with a smart phone that has one of the (weather) apps.

Generally, the best website is to go to the National Weather Service and you can [narrow] it down to the specifics of where the lightning and lightning strikes are occurring.

If it’s within 15 miles, it’s time for a heads up. If it’s within 10 miles, you’ve gotta start thinking about your safety procedures. And when it’s within 5 miles, that’s when you have to start telling people we have to seek shelter and get out of the weather.

A couple things about seeking shelter, [taken] from the research, safe locations include fully enclosed buildings, fully enclosed cars or vehicles. Things that are unsafe are anything that’s termed a shelter. Picnic shelters, storage shelters, those are not safe.

There have been a lot of significant lightning strikes in shelters. In fact, there was one in Youngstown about two years ago where the entire baseball team was in a shelter.

Dugouts are not safe. Tall objects, like trees, are not safe. [Being] near bodies of water is not safe. So, we need to know the difference between what’s safe and what’s not.

And then finally, if there is a lightning strike or a problem, we need to be ready with first aid. And that is, No. 1, move the patient or the athlete to a safer location and then be ready to administer the ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation), and administer CPR, if necessary.

Make sure you get the AED ready because some of these kids are going to have a cardiac arrest and they’re going to need the shock of the AED to restart their heart. We had one of those in Medina County about a decade ago where an AED was life saving to a kid who got struck by lightning.

So, we need to prepare for lightning strikes and severe weather. We want everybody to have fun in the spring, but now’s the time to prepare a plan for that bad weather.

Horner: Alright, Joe, great information and education, as always. We’ll catch up with you next week.

Dr. Congeni: Alright, Ray. Have a great week.

Horner: You too.

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About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.

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