OK, so I know this has been discussed at many of the past conferences, but I have a question. How many of you close your indoor facilities during a thunder & lightning storm? And if you do close, WHY?
I am trying to gather as much info as I can to present to my staff.
In general, we strive to make our recommendations as easy to follow and as universal as possible. So, our current recommendation is: If you can hear thunder, clear the pool. Rather than asking our customers to remember/understand Flash-to-bang ratios and specific distances, we feel a more sweeping recommendation makes sense.
It is possible for lightning to strike from distances greater than 10 miles (about the distance thunder can be heard), so the safest option is to clear the water whenever you can hear thunder.
With that said, our best practices are intended to be the safest possible option, not necessarily the easiest or most popular to implement.
I have included the flash bang ratio in my policies and procedures for staff and in our EAP. The senior guard on duty has the responsiblity to monitor weather and signal all staff to clear the pool during any power outage or when a storm is in the immediate area. A warning will be given to all patrons when a count of 30 sec between flash and bang is noted and if that count decreases, the pool is cleared until the count is greater than 30 seconds. This is new for us this year - we used to close only during a power outage or if we experienced flooding in our entry hallway. So far so good... even swim team has cooperated with the new policy.
Update: We have since adjusted our compliance with National Lightning Safety Institute recommendations. I have all my senior staff using an app called "Flash Boom" to reduce the possibility that any one of the staff is counting between thunder and lightning under the influence of wanting to be somewhere else on a summer evening. Screen shots can prove the proximity and keep us all on the same page. The initial notification to patrons is still a whistle signal and announcement at a 6-8 mile determination that "a storm is in the area please be aware the pool will be cleared if it becomes necessary" BUT the indoor pool is only cleared if the storm is closing in or is directly overhead and resumes normal operation as the storm shows a pattern of consistantly moving away out of the 6-8 mile range.
We here in Mississippi have weather problems all the time, plenty of the thunderstorms and unfortunately devastating tornadoes (just 2 days ago another subject I hope to post next week). But closing the Nat for lightening is setting a standard that will be impossible to keep.
We had to install another set of fire alarms because when the Nat was packed with swim lessons, swim team, lap swimmers and with all the doors shut we were having a hard time hearing the alarms. If it is thundering outside the only people who would be able to hear it in this entire gym would be folks sitting outside on the steps.
Lets be careful with the standards we want to set for ourselves -- VGB though needed was tough enough.
Mr. Manners: Let me preface this by stating that my expertise is in the beach environment, not the pool environment.
Recently the United States Lifesaving Association worked with the National Weather Service to develop some guidelines for lifeguards in dealing with lightning. You can find them here: www.usla.org/lightning. Some robust discussions took place regarding this particular issue and I took the time to read every report of an injury or purported injury that was provided to me as evidence of the need to clear an indoor pool during a lightning storm.
None of those reports (provided by the experts) involved an injury directly attributable to lightning, with the exception of a case in which lighting damaged the chlorination system, leading to illness of some people. It appears to me that this is an area where you can’t prove a negative (and there is little question that any building could be struck and damaged by lightning) so management fear, combined with “expert” advice, seems to be driving this decision, not evidence.
Mr. Griffiths’ article in AI made excellent points about the enhanced hazard presented by clearing the pool. For example, people told to leave the pool may go outside to leave and be struck by lightning walking to their cars. There is plenty of evidence that people walking outside during a lightning storm may be injured or killed. There appears to be zero evidence that people swimming in an indoor pool have been injured or killed by lightning anywhere in the world (with the one limited exception I noted).
In our discussions about when to close a beach, there were those who felt the beach should be closed anytime you can hear or see lightning, no matter how far away. The problem from a beach management perspective is that evacuating a beach comes with risks of various injuries and if you overdo it, people become resistant to following the evacuation order.
In my view, it is best to rely on evidence, rather than speculation. Science evolves by challenging accepted beliefs. Being a manager means making tough decisions. The reality though, based on the evidence, is that people die by drowning in indoor pools, even when lifeguards are on duty; but apparently no one has died due to a lightning strike at an indoor pool. In this context, the safest thing to do would be to close the pool entirely and never let anyone swim, lightning or no. Indeed, during a lightning storm, a swimmer at an indoor pool is clearly at risk of death by drowning, but there appears to be no evidence that the swimmer is at risk of being struck or killed by lightning.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet and this will be my only post. I’ve addressed this topic many times in the past and I continue to be of the minority opinion. After weighing all the evidence over the last 25 years, I truly believe in a grounded and bonded indoor swimming pool with emergency back-up lighting, you are placing your people more at risk if you clear your swimming pool during lightning storms. This change in schedule causes your patrons to be driving in cars, in showers, on toilets, on phones and in front of computer screens rather than in your protected pool. 95% of all human/lightning strikes are outdoors. When lightning does hit a building, the lightning travels around the shell or skin of the building to ground itself. Keep in mind, we have been discussing this for decades and no one has come up with a documented injury at an indoor pool due to lightening to date. Close calls and near misses don’t count with lightning because the lightning was never interested in the potential victim. In my opinion, closing indoor pools for lightning safety is the greatest Urban Myth we have in Aquatics.
I also subsribe to the belief that there is no cause to close and indoor pool due to lightning. In my career I have worked beaches and pools, both indoor and outdoor, and have always followed the recommendation that if you hear thunder or see lightning and then hear the resulting thunder that you are in the "immediate danger zone" and should clear patrons from the water. I know this guideline is also used for rafting/tubing river trips as well. At my current facility we have a Waterpark and a Natatorium and are located in a climate where tunderstorms are infrequent and usually very brief. Leaving the indoor pools operational during the lighting gives our patrons someplace to continue to recreate until the storm passes if they so choose.