‘Costly repairs’ from lightning strikes
St Georges – They have caused death and fires in some parts of the world but in the Caribbean region every year, especially during the wet or hurricane season, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent to repair or replace infrastructure damaged by lightning strikes.
But it continues to remain one of “those things that is just dealt” because of the little public discussion on the matter even as the global community observes international lightning safety day.
“In recent times there has been an increase in the number of property owners reporting losses due to lighting strikes. In some cases the loss is valued to be in the thousands of dollars,” said 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,” he said.
He said that in June 2020, a section of the island was affected by lightning strikes and that some of these property owners are still spending to repair the damages. Most of the damages included 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 conference on lightning. Held online, the two-day conference during the month of 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.
There is extraordinarily little data available from disaster management agencies within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (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 which have suffered from lightning strikes include radio stations, National Disaster Management Agency office and the Grenada Airport Authority – they are critical during a hurricane for informing the citizens.
“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 the Maurice Bishop International Airport.
“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,” she added.
Radio stations have had to count the cost associated with lightning strikes which sometimes resulted in them been off airwaves 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 radio.
“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,” said Mike Alexis, Technical manager at the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN).
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 the Digicel Grenada.
During the conference, it was noted that 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 but no insurance company offers “lightning protection” but 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 its normal coverage, so the more this issues is publicly discussed, the more people will become aware,” he said. (CMC)