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From the National Athletic Trainers' Association

Lightning Safety Policies: Every Club Or League Needs One

4. Identify locations unsafe from lightning

  • Unsafe locations include, ironically, most places that are termed shelters, such as picnic and park, rain, sun, bus, and rain non-metal shelters and athletic storage sheds (NATA recommends that all shelters that do not provide protection from lightning should have a permanent disclaimer clearly posted within the structure);
  • Locations with open areas, such as tents, dugouts, refreshment stands, gazebos, screened porches, press boxes, and open garages are NOT safe from a lightning hazard; 
  • Tall objects (e.g. trees, poles and towers, and elevated areas) are potential lightning targets and should be avoided.  Large bodies of water, including swimming pools, are unsafe areas. One should never seek shelter near or under trees to keep dry during a thunderstorm.  It is always much better to go to a safe location.
  • Injuries have been reported to people inside a building who were using plumbing or wiring or were near enough to the structure to receive a side flash from lightning (e.g. when lightning strikes an object near the victim and a portion of the energy jumps from the object to the victim).
  • Close proximity to showers, sinks, locker rooms, indoor pools, appliances, and electronics can be unsafe.
  • In the absence of working cell phones, hardwired telephones can still be used cautiously to contact emergency services if needed (although there have been rare reports of people killed or injured by lightning while talking on a hardwired telephone, taking a shower, or standing near household appliances such as dishwashers, stoves, or refrigerators).
  • It is a myth that metal (e.g. watches, jewelry, cell phones, and MP3 players) attract lightning; the primary danger of wireless devices is not from attracting lightning but that they may distract individuals from noticing many dangers in their surroundings, including thunder, which is the primary warning that lightning is close enough to be dangerous. 
5. Establish criteria for postponement and resumption of activities
  •  Postpone or suspend activities if a thunderstorm appears imminent before or during activity.  Watch the skies for locally developing or approaching storms that have not yet produced lightning.  Remember: visible blue sky or the absence of rain does not indicate that a person is safe, because lightning can strike far from the rain and even far outside the apparent cloud edge.  "Indeed, lightning sometimes appears to strike from skies with fue or no clouds in the immediate area," warns the NATA, a situation often referred to as a "bolt from the blue."
  • All individuals must be completely within an identified safe location when:
    • thunderstorms are already producing lightning and approaching the immediate location, and/or
    • the distance between the edge of the lightning storm and the location of the outdoor activity reaches 5 nautical miles (roughly 6 statute miles);
  • Allowing time for individuals to evacuate the premises, leave outdoor facilities, and be completely within the designated safe location(s) must be taken into consideration in the lightning-safety plan (according to the NWS, 21% of the victims in 2010 were fatally injured while trying to seek safety from lightning)(3);
  • Activities should be suspended until 30 minutes after the last strike of lightning is seen (or at least 5 miles away) and after the last sound of thunder is heard. Remember: the 30-minute clock restarts for each lightning flash within 5 nautical miles and each time thunder is heard. (This is because research has shown that lightning fatalities occur at about equal rates at the onset, the middle, and towards the end of the thunderstorm; waiting 30 minutes to resume activities after hearing any thunder or seeing any lightning, says the NATA, yields 90% to 95% confidence that no more lightning will occur).

6. Prepare large venue planning protocols:  

  • Specific lightning safety plans should be established for large-scale events, and include the components of the EAP for lightning; it requires more effort, planning, and evacuation time than does moving 1 field off a field.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a tool kit that provides direction for large-venue lightning safety. The plan should include:
    • Use of a reliable weather monitoring system to determine whether to cancel or postpone activity before the event begins; continuous monitoring of the weather should occur during the event;
    • Means to prevent spectators from entering an outdoor venue when the event is suspended due to lightning; spectators should be directed to the nearest safe place; 
    • Identification of enough close-proximity locations and vacant, fully-enclosed metal vehicles to hold all individuals affected by the lightning hazard, including participants and specators;
    • Means to ensure a safe and orderly evacuation from the event, including announcements, signage, safety information in event programs and brochures, assistance from ushers, and entrances that also serve as exits.
    • Consideration for the time necessary to move a large crowd in and out of the facility so that they can be wholly within a safe, substantial building by the time the leading edge of the storm is within 5 nautical miles of the outdoor activity.

7. Provide first aid:

  • Most lightning deaths are due to cardiac or respiratory arrest at the time of injury.
  • Rescuers and emergency personnel must ensure their own safety before venturing out into the venue to provide aid. 
  • activate the emergency management system
    • Move patients to a safe location if needed
    • Evaluate and treat patients for apnea (cessation of breathing) and absence of heartbeat (cardiac arrest) and begin CPR as soon as safely possible.  (Remember: the basic life support sequence has been changed from "A-B-C" (Airway, Breathing, Chest Compressions) to "C-A-B" (Chest compressions, Airway, Breathing) for adults and pediatric patients (children and infants, excluding newborns);Performing CPR on teenager
    • Assess level of consciousness;
    • Evaluate and treat for the possibility of spinal injuries; and
    • Evaluate and treat for hypothermia.
  • If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, it should be used on anyone who appears unconscious, pulseless or not breathing.  However, other first-aid efforts and resuscitation (CPR) should not be delayed while an AED is being located.
For more on the cardiac chain of survival, click here. 
For American Heart Association's updated CPR guidelines, click here.  

8. Notifying participants of lightning danger.  Organizations have a duty to warn others of foreseeable dangers as a matter of basic tort law.  Proactive lightning-injury prevention means not placing individuals at risk when a hazardous situation could have been prevented:

  • If thunder can be heard, lightning is close enough to be a hazard, and people should go to a safe location immediately.
  • In the event of impending thunderstorms, those in control of outdoor events should fulfill their obligations to warn participants and spectators of the lightning danger;
  • All individuals have the right to vacate an outdoor site or unsafe area, without fear of repercussion or penalty, in order to seek a lightning-safe location if they feel in danger from impending lightning activity. 

"Lighting is the most dangerous and frequently encountered thunderstorm hazard that most people experience very year," added Walsh. "By following these protocols and remaining calm and orderly, with an emergency plan in place, all outdoor enthusiasts can return to activity in a safe and secure manner."

To read the full position statement from the NATA, click here


1. National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation.  J Ath Tr. 2013;48(2):258-270.


Material from a July 29, 2015 press release from NATA was used in the updating of this article. 

Posted May 23, 2013, updated July 30, 2015