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Sports Safety: When Thunder Roars Go Indoors

Hospital news | Thursday, March 30, 2017

Contact: Crossing Rivers Communications

Mark Seeley and Penny Grassel, Licensed Athletic Trainers at Crossing Rivers Health, remind area athletes that spring sports have started, and with that come the potential for dangerous weather.

Seeley warns coaches, athletics and fans, “Lightning is the most frequent weather hazard that impacts athletic events. Education is the single most important means to achieve lightning safety. People must be aware of storms that produce lightning and the appropriate steps to reduce the risk of lightning related injuries. It is important to have a lightning safety protocol in place and followed once thunder is heard or lightning is seen. An easy slogan to remember lightning safety from the National Lightning Safety Institute- if you can see it, flee it; if you can hear it, clear it.”

The National Weather Service reported that 17% of lightning deaths between 2006-2013 occurred during outdoor sports or recreational activities. The greatest number of fatalities occurred in the 10-19 year old and 20-29 year old age groups.

The following steps are recommended by healthychildren.org:

  • If a storm is suspected or lightning or thunder is observed, all outdoor activities should be suspended and athletes and spectators should head to ‘lightning safe’ facilities until the weather clears.
    • A ‘lightning safe’ facility is a fully enclosed building with both plumbing and wiring.
    • Concession stands, pavilions, standing under trees, equipment sheds, and tents are not considered lightning safe and lightning can still strike people within these locations.
    • A car or bus with the windows fully closed and doors shut is also considered a safe place.
  • Establish a lightning policy within the venue's emergency action plan. The policy should include the following:
    • A chain of command to alert appropriate personnel of an impending storm
    • Designation of ‘lightning safe’ facilities for evacuations
    • Plan for evacuating athletes and spectators, accounting for large crowds
    • Monitoring local weather forecasts
    • Know the phone number for the local weather service to have up-to-date weather updates
    • Specific criteria for the suspension and resumption of play
  • Educate athletes, parents, coaches, referees, etc. about the dangers of lightning producing storms and the appropriate actions to take in the event of a storm
  • Establish several methods for alerting spectators of an incoming storm including a speaker system, text messages, staff announcements, etc. make everyone aware of visual signs to safe zones

When do you suspend or resume play during a storm?

  • All activity should be suspended upon the first observable lightning strike or sound of thunder.
  • A proactive approach can also be taken using the local weather service and listening to warnings. If a warning is given by a weather service it is recommended to suspend activity even if lightning or thunder has not been observed on the playing field.
  • Play may resume 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder or observable flash of lightning. The 30 minutes clock restarts every time a new lightning flash or thunder sound is heard.

Facilities are encouraged to invest in a NOAA Weather Radio and download the CoachSmart app to receive real-time information based on the user’s GPS location on lightning strikes and heat index. The app also includes sports medicine and safety FAQs and a group contact feature.

Penny Grassel adds, “It is also important for everyone to know what to do if someone is struck by lightning. First- provide the victim emergency help immediately and move him or her to a safe place. Then, call 911, begin CPR and apply AED. People who have been struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to handle.”

Mark Seeley and Penny Grassel have over 48 combined years of experience as athlete trainers. They specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries to athletes and others who are engaged in everyday physical activities. They provide mobile health care to Prairie du Chien School District, River Ridge School District and Wauzeka-Stueben School District. Being on-site during practices and sporting events, they work with athletes to avoid injuries. When an injury occurs, they give immediate care; and also rehabilitate patients after injuries or surgery providing a continuum of care.

Seeley and Grassel are also an integral part of the rehabilitation services offered on-site at Crossing Rivers Health working closely with physical therapists and physicians to treat musculoskeletal injuries.

Additional information on Athletic Training, Cardiac Rehab, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and other rehab services available through Crossing Rivers Health may be found at crossingrivers.org or call 608-357-2000.