Letter: National Weather Service applauds county lightning policy

September 18, 2012

This is in response to the Sept. 6 letter to the editor, "County's policy on lightning well-intentioned but misguided."

The National Weather Service applauds Howard County's lightning safety education effort to protect its residents. The safety message on the sign, "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors" can be a matter of life or death. If you can hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike and you should seek shelter immediately. If a substantial building is not close by, a vehicle provides very safe shelter.

County officials realized the importance of reminding outdoor enthusiasts of this message by prominently displaying safety signs at the county's outdoor recreational facilities. The cost of a few dozen signs is well worth it even if it prevents just one injury.

Lightning is the third most deadly severe weather killer in the United States. And while proactive education efforts have helped lower the average number of lightning deaths in the U.S. from 73 to 54 over the last 10 years, hundreds of people in the U.S. are permanently injured each year. People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and more.

I will never forget meeting Christina Bryan nine years after she was struck and injured by lightning when she was 16 years old. Christina is wheelchair-bound and cannot talk or feed herself. She is fortunate that she has a loving, supportive family who gives her 24-hour a day care. Even one injury is too much, and if a few hundred dollars' worth of signs can prevent a single person from being struck, it is well worth it.

The children who were standing under trees and hanging on fences were absolutely doing the wrong thing, and I hope the author of the letter let them know. They should have moved quickly to safe shelter.

Howard County was the first in the nation to take proactive steps toward lightning safety, but safety is a matter of personal responsibility. It is up to parents, coaches and other adults to help teach children — and often each other — safety tips that will help keep them safe from lightning.

Donna Franklin

Lightning Safety Program Lead

National Weather Service

Silver Spring

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