Lightning – Making an Informed Decision

One of the responsibilities of an Aquatic Facility Manager is to make an informed decision on when it is safe to swim.  This includes the quality of the water, risk management support and the presence of bad weather.  It is not uncommon for our firm to be consulted by aquatic facility operators when developing a policy for lightning storms.  Unfortunately, there are conflicting statements about what is in the best interest of public health and there does not seem to be a perfect answer. 

When these discussions come up, we often refer individuals to two publications to provide a perspective on the issues that need to be considered when making an informed decision for their particular facility.  In the November / December Aquatics International article, ”When Lightning Strikes”, Tom Griffith and Matt Griffin review injury statistics, code requirements and risk management variables.  This article summarizes:  “It’s impossible to eliminate all risk associated with pools without also eliminating the numerous benefits also associated with them. Competent operators and managers of aquatics facilities should be focusing on actual risks that are known to cause catastrophic injury and death, not on an urban myth that has no supporting evidence. Remember, hundreds of indoor pools are open every day during thunderstorms, and there’s never been a documented case of death attributed to lightning. Remember, too, that people swimming indoors during a thunderstorm are as safe as they can be.”

A second source that may be consulted is the publication Lifesaving Resources, LLC and an article written by Gerald M. Dworkin in 1998 and revised in June of 2012 titled “Emergency Procedures During Thunder & Lighting Storms.”  This article describes basic lightning facts and sample Standard Operating Procedures.  This article states: “All patrons and facility staff should be cleared from the water and the surrounding area (pool deck or beach) immediately at the first sounding of thunder or the first sighting of lightning. Because lightning is attracted to the tallest object in the area, patrons and facility staff should not be allowed to congregate under trees, umbrellas, or other tall objects. Everyone should leave the facility, go indoors, or stay in their automobiles until the storm passes.”  It goes on to state that “we advocate that the same principles that pertain to outdoor aquatic and recreation facilities should be followed for indoor facilities as well.”

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