Lightning storms occur 130 days per year on average in Florida’s “Lightning Alley,” making it one of the most dangerous areas in the United States with respect to weather-related incidents.
It is not true that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Communications towers in the area are prone to being hit during any major thunderstorm. If not properly equipped, this regular lightning activity can cause millions of dollars in damage.
Orange County, Fla., in the heart of the alley, sees more than its fair share of damaged buildings, disrupted power lines, fires and, unfortunately, injuries caused by lightning strikes.
As the former supervisor of radio services at Orange County’s Public Safety Communications Division, Tom Sorely was responsible for keeping its 820,000 residents safe. It was his job to ensure the communications lines remained open 24/7; however, this task wasn’t always easy when overseeing nine tower sites and 10 emergency response centers in the county.
“We’re in the most lightning-prone area of the country,” Sorely said. “Our antennas are at the top of 300-foot lightning rods.”
Sorley explained that one or two strikes per month on a large tower were routine between the months of May and October.
“They don’t all do damage. But we have lost our entire network at times, and every public service agency is in jeopardy when that happens,” he said. “Lightning strikes can be costly.”
According to the Copper Development Association (CDA), during the last 10 years, lighting strikes have caused nearly $2 million in damage to transmitters and other lost equipment.
David Brender, national program manager for the CDA’s Electrical Program, urges all building owners and facility managers to check their electrical grounding systems and to take a “total systems approach” when evaluating lightning protection, something electrical contractors can help with.
“A well-placed lightning strike can seriously compromise any facility, leaving lost equipment and damaged electronics in its wake,” Brender said. “Lightning protection systems that benefit from the inherent conductive properties of copper may give buildings the best chance to avoid this unpredictable damage.”
Sorley explained that the grounding systems at the facilities complied with the National Electrical Code when they were built, but they were not all designed by the same contractor, which eventually led to problems.
The total systems approach begins with the materials.
Copper radials, plates, electrodes, conductors and wiring all contribute to the success of a lightning protection system. Corrosion resistance, reliability and good conductivity make copper the ideal metal for a robust grounding system.
CDA recommends building and facility managers take the necessary steps to protect their property. A total systems approach with copper grounding will provide the best support.
For more information about copper grounding systems, please visit www.copper.org.