Strikes Twice: Proper Grounding Prevents Outages
By the Copper Development Association
A total systems approach to electrical grounding may
save millions of dollars
Lightning storms occur on average 130 days a year in
Florida’s “Lightning Alley,” making this area one of the most
dangerous in the United States with respect to weather- related
incidents. It is not true that lightning never strikes the same
place twice. Communications towers in this area are prone to being
hit during any major thunderstorm. If not properly equipped, this
regular lightning activity can cause millions of dollars in damage.
Orange County, Florida, is in the heart of the Alley,
and it sees more than its fair share of damaged buildings, disrupted
power lines, fires and, unfortunately, injuries caused by lightning
strikes. As the former supervisor of radio services at Orange
County's Public Safety Communications Division, Tom Sorely was
responsible for keeping its 820,000 residents safe. It was his job
to make sure that the communications lines remained open 24-7,
however this task wasn't always easy when overseeing nine tower
sites and 10 emergency response centers in the county.
"We're in the most lightning-prone area of the
country," Sorely said. "Our antennas are at the top of 300-ft
lightning rods!” Sorley explained that one or two strikes per month
on a large tower were routine between the months of May and October.
“They don't all do damage. But we have lost our
entire network at times and every public service agency is in
jeopardy when that happens,” he said. "Lightning strikes can be
costly!” Over the last 10 years, lighting strikes have caused nearly
$2 million in damages to transmitters and other lost equipment.
David Brender, National Program Manager for the
Copper Development Association’s Electrical Program, urges all
building owners and facility managers to check their electrical
grounding systems and to take a “total systems approach” when
evaluating lightning protection. “A well-placed lightning strike can
seriously compromise any facility, leaving lost equipment and
damaged electronics in its wake,” said Brender. “Lightning
protection systems that benefit from the inherent conductive
properties of copper may give buildings the best chance to avoid
this unpredictable damage.”
In essence, lightning protection is the process of
creating electrical paths of least resistance in order to direct
strikes to the ground and away from where they can cause damage.
Sorley explained that the grounding systems at the facilities
complied with the electrical codes when they were built, but they
were not all designed by the same contractor, which eventually led
to problems. “No single individual or contractor understood
grounding as a total system,” said Sorley. “Grounding and its
maintenance were just something everyone took for granted. What we
now have is a total systems approach to lightning protection."
The “total systems approach” begins with the
materials. Copper radials, plates, electrodes, conductors and
wiring are all integral to the success of a lightning protection
system. Corrosion resistance, reliability and superior conductivity
make copper the ideal metal for a robust grounding system.
CDA recommends building and facility managers take
the necessary steps to protect their property from lightning
damage. A “total systems approach” with copper grounding will
provide the best support for those areas where lightning does
The Copper Development Association is the
information, education, market and technical development arm of the
copper, brass and bronze industries in the USA.
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