This week has been designated Lightning Safety Week by the National Weather Service. It comes not a moment too soon, leading into next month, which is the most dangerous of the year when it comes to lightning-related injuries and fatalities in the United States.
Too bad, however, that the publicity campaign didn’t take place a month ago. Better awareness may have been enough to save the life of Benet Academy senior Jennie Dizon, 17, who was struck and killed on May 30 while sitting in a park in Downer’s Grove. Alone at the time while waiting to pick up younger siblings from a dental appointment, she was just days from graduating. Had she been in her car, she would have been fine.
The circumstances surrounding the tragedy are common enough according to a Position Statement published in April by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, which holds its Annual Meeting & Clinical Symposia in Las Vegas this week — more on that in future columns.
As for the NATA’s concerns about lightning, the highlights of its position paper include the following points.
*Promote safety slogans developed by the NWS: no place outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area; when thunder roars, go indoors; half an hour since thunder roars, now it's safe to go outdoors.
*Establish a chain of command that identifies a specific decision-maker.
*Use a reliable means of monitoring local weather and assign a specific individual to be a “weather watcher.”
*For each athletic venue, identify large, fully-enclosed buildings with wiring and plumbing to serve as a safe place for players and fans.
*Fully-enclosed metal vehicles such as cars, school buses, and vans are safe alternatives to a fully-enclosed building.
*Picnic, park, sun, bus, and rain “shelters” and storage sheds are not safe. Neither are tents, dugouts, refreshment stands, gazebos, screened porches, open press boxes, and open garages.
*Tall objects such as trees and telephone poles should be avoided. So should large bodies of water including outdoor and indoor swimming pools.
*While indoors avoid use of plumbing and wired devices, including land-line telephones.
*Postpone or suspend activities if a thunderstorm appears imminent.
*Allow time for all individuals present to be evacuated to a designated safe location — identified by signs, in the game program, and in pregame announcements — by the time the edge of the storm is 6 miles away.
*Activities should be suspended until 30 minutes after the last strike of lightning is seen or the last sound of thunder is heard.
The entire position paper is required reading for athletic administrators at all levels from youth to professional. One would think the “pros” but would be best at such preparations but some are and some aren’t. Back on June 12, the White Sox wisely postponed their game with Toronto long before predicted bad weather hit.
On June 3, during a nationally baseball televised game, though, both Boston and N.Y. Yankees players were allowed to remain in their respective dugouts even as a violent storm pelted Yankee Stadium — until they bolted for better cover after a particularly close strike.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.