Risk Management Magazine

Search for Articles

Not-so-Lucky Strikes

Not-so-Lucky Strikes

104th Brigade Engineer Battalion,
44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
New Jersey Army National Guard
Port Murray, New Jersey

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chance of a person being struck by lightning is less than one in a million. I’ve been struck twice — and I don’t feel very lucky.

first time it happened I was off duty and indoors, sitting on the basement floor playing a game on my PlayStation. Lightning hit an old television antenna connected to the house and the current traveled up through the floor and into me. Fortunately, I was the only one in the basement at the time. The rest of my family members were in other parts of the house, better insulated from the lightning’s current. My legs were numb for a short time after the strike, but I managed to get up and walk it off. My PlayStation was not as fortunate. It was fried and never worked again.

The second time, I was on duty. It was my first big training exercise as a company commander and — again, fortunately — most of the unit was sheltered for the evening in a range building at a separate location. That left 10 of us holding a company training meeting in a tent at our bivouac site. We were in a wooded area on Fort Drum, New York, in a saddle between two small hills when lightning struck our radio antenna and dispersed through the ground (and us). Several Soldiers were hurt, with injuries ranging from small burns to a broken ankle. Lightning even welded one Soldier’s cot to the tent frame.

Comparing the two instances illustrates why the best advice is to get indoors when lightning is in the area. The first strike was closer, but the effects were much less severe since the electricity took the path of least resistance, and the house insulated and protected us from most of the current. During the second strike, we were the path of least resistance, which made us part of the lightning’s circuit.

Even though it’s best to be indoors during a thunderstorm, the CDC says about one-third of all lightning injuries happen there. I made some mistakes during the first incident, including sitting on a concrete pad and using electronics while lightning was in the area. That increased my chances of injury. Lucky for me I wasn’t showering or washing dishes, as electrical currents travel through plumbing easily.

While duty sometimes keeps us in areas where indoor shelter is unavailable, there are still things we can do to mitigate the lightning risk. We can disperse, stay away from open spaces and avoid contact with objects that conduct electricity. If caught in the open without hard-top vehicles or an enclosed building, Soldiers can crouch down in a ball-like position with their heads tucked and hands over their ears so they are low with minimal contact with the ground. However, it’s best to observe weather forecasts and pay attention to changing conditions to avoid lightning whenever possible.

The CDC states, “Lightning most often strikes people who engage in outdoor recreational activities or work outside. From 2006 through 2021, leisure activities such as fishing, boating, sports and relaxing at the beach accounted for almost two-thirds of lightning deaths.” Work-related activities contribute to about 18 percent of total lightning fatalities, and males are five times more likely to be struck than females.

Lightning can occur any time of year and, according to the National Weather Service’s storm data, it strikes the U.S. about 25 million times annually. The U.S. averaged 43 reported lightning fatalities per year between 1989 and 2018, and the CDC reported that more than 10 percent of lightning strikes are fatal, with most deaths occurring in the summer months. Victims may experience cardiac arrest at the time of injury, and some victims may appear to have a delayed death a few days later.

When responding to a lightning strike victim, the CDC recommends calling for help and then checking to see if the person is breathing and has a pulse. If the victim is breathing normally, responders should look for other possible injuries such as burns, shock or blunt trauma and treat each injury with basic first aid until help arrives. If the person is not breathing, responders should begin mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths immediately. If the victim has no pulse, responders should begin CPR and continue resuscitation until help arrives.

While I avoided serious injury in my two strikes, I now ensure I don’t put myself in the position to become a lightning victim again. I learned that the record for lightning strikes in an individual’s lifetime is seven. That’s a record I’d rather not chase.

Did You Know?

As we enter the warmer spring and summer seasons, conditions become more favorable for lightning strikes. Over the past decade, several Soldiers were injured due to lightning strikes — and it doesn’t necessarily need to be the result of a direct hit. In 2022, a Soldier was participating in annual training when a tree inside the unit's bivouac area was struck by lightning. The tree broke into multiple pieces that landed on three of the unit’s tents. The resulting impact caused fatal injuries to the Soldier and various non-fatal injuries to eight other Soldiers. Additionally, lightning strikes have caused millions of dollars in damage to Army aircraft, vehicles and other equipment.

  • 10 March 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 225
  • Comments: 0