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Twelve people were injured this week in Houston County when lightning struck at an outdoor middle school football game.One adult is in critical condition.Lightning struck while crowds were evacuating the stands.

As school has resumed, outdoor athletic events are taking place during what has been an excessive storm season.When storms threaten, school officials and coaches must not let their desire to compete in the sport override crowd and player safety.

Each year many people are killed or injured due to misinformation and inappropriate conduct during thunderstorms.Lightning casualties have increased at sporting events and for children of school age.Most of this trend is related to outdoor sporting activities.Hence, schools and other sports organizations need to develop specific policies for lightning safety at sports events.

In 1998 the Lightning Safety Group developed guidelines for lightning safety. These guidelines have been adopted by the National Athletic Trainers Association.

Basic Facts about Lightning Dangers:

1. All thunderstorms produce lightning and are dangerous.Every year lightning kills more people than hurricanes or tornados.

2. Lightning often strikes outside the area of heavy rain.Many deaths occur ahead of storms because people wait too long before seeking shelter; or people return outside too quickly after a storm passes.

3. If you hear thunder, you are in immediate threat of being struck by lightning.

4. Lightning strikes leave many victims with permanent disabilities.

How to Avoid Lightning Dangers:

1. Schools and outdoor recreation leagues should have a lightning safety plan; and the plan should be executed without exception.

2. If thunderstorms are forecast, consider postponing the event;

3. Monitor the weather for clues of impending dangers, such as darkening skies, increasing wind, thunder or flashes of lightning;

4. At the sound of thunder, crowds should move inside a substantial building.Crowds should stay away from sheds, open shelters, dugouts, bleachers or stands.If no building is available, enter a hard-topped metal vehicle with the windows closed.

What to Do If You Cannot Get to a Safe Place:

1. Avoid open areas and stay away from tall trees, utility poles and towers;

2. Stay away from metal bleachers, backstops and fences.Lightning can pass long distances through metal;

3. Spread out as this reduces the risk of multiple injuries.

4. If outside, crouch down on the balls of your feet, cover your ears, and bend your head down; attempt to make yourself as small as possible while having limited contact with the ground.

How Lightning Injures People

People are injured by lightning strikes either through

1. A direct strike to the body (3-5% of injuries)

2. Side splash from another object struck by lightning (30% of injuries)

3. Contact voltage from touching an object that is struck (1-2% of injuries)

4. Ground current effect as the energy is spread out across the surface (40-50% of injuries)

5. An upward leader that does not connect with a downward leader (20-25% of injuries)

Lightning strikes are primarily a neurological injury that affect all three components of the central nervous system:central, autonomic and peripheral.

Take precaution when you are attending a sporting event and insist that schools and athletic leagues have a lightning safety policy in place for your child.Often the greatest dangers arise from those risks we fail to appreciate.

If your school or organization fails to have a policy or fails to provide necessary precautions for its student athletes or its crowd during a thunderstorm, then the school may have liability if someone is injured.

Our law firm can provide excellent advice for those of you who may be facing catastrophic injuries as a result of a weather-related incident.Contact the law firm of Robert N. Katz for a free, private consultation.

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