by Linda Straker
- Little public discussion on damages to infrastructure associated with lightning strikes
- Damages also include destruction of electronic devices and home appliances
- 28 June is International Lightning Safety Day
Lightning strikes have caused deaths and fires in some parts of the world. Still, every year in the Caribbean region, especially during the wet or hurricane season, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent repairing or replacing damages to infrastructure associated with lightning strikes. This remains one of “those things that is just dealt” with because of little public discussion on the matter.
“In recent times there has been an increase in the number of property owners reporting losses due lighting strikes; in some cases, the loss is valued to be in the thousands of dollars,” said Senator Winston Garraway Minister responsible for National Disaster. “The unfortunate thing though is the lightning strikes are not covered by insurance companies hence the reason why the homeowners have to find their own resources to repair the damage. While one cannot prevent lightning from striking a property there is good news for homeowners. I am reliably informed by the technocrats that lightning rods can protect properties.”
Disclosing that in June 2020 a section of the island was affected by lightning strikes, Garraway said that some of these property owners are still spending to repair the damages. A lot of the damages include the destruction of electronic devices such as computers, telephones, television and other home appliances.
“The economic impact of lightning strikes” was among one of the topics discussed during a recent online conference on lightning. The 2-day conference in May brought together regional and international weather and lighting experts. Grenada’s participants were officers at the Meteorological Office at the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA).
There is extraordinarily little data available from disaster management agencies within the OECS about the economic impact of lightning, but a basic investigation revealed that among the hardest affected are telecommunications providers, radio and television operators and electricity companies.
In Grenada, agencies that have suffered from lightning strikes include radio stations, the National Disaster Management Agency (NaDMA) office, and the Grenada Airport Authority (GAA), agencies critical during a hurricane to inform citizens and residents.
Lightning strikes have also affected residential and commercial buildings, but that data is not collected, so an accurate assessment of Grenada is yet to be determined. However, some companies that are exposed are beginning to act.
“We have installed and are continuing to install lightning rods, surge suppressors and other tools that can reduce the impact on us whenever there is a strike,” said Christina Joseph Director of Operations at MBIA. “The mitigating and protecting initiatives are not just at the main building in Point Salines where we have our towers but also at our infrastructure at Grand Etang.”
Radio stations have had to count the cost associated with lightning strikes which sometimes resulted in them being off airwave frequencies ranging from hours to weeks. “We have recently installed surge suppressors so the transmitters will automatically shut down and our recovery time to return on the airwaves is now quicker,” said Desiree Dabreo of WeeFM.
Mike Alexis Technical Manager at the Grenada Broadcasting Network said, “We took action a long time ago because as you know we around a long time. So to reduce our damages during a storm involving lightning, we have installed the necessary devices that will offer us some protection.”
Telecommunications companies are always on alert for the impact of lighting during a storm. “We have suffered significant tower damages costing us thousands to repair or replace and in turn will affect our customers,” said Kenneth Calliste of Digicel Grenada.
As pointed out during the conference, the simple act of professionally installing lightning rods can reduce the impact of lightning strikes. “This is a considerable amount of voltage that is encountering what is already in the building, and the lightning rod can now channel that excess to the earth,” said one of the conference presenters.
One of the deadly impacts associated with lightning is fire to buildings. No insurance company offers “lightning protection” however, a homeowner can make a claim if there is a fire. One insurance executive believes that more discussion should be held on the issue because that is how a change can occur. “There was a time when flood insurance was not normal; now it’s normal coverage. So, the more this issue is publicly discussed, the more people will become aware,” he said.
28 June is International Lightning Safety Day.