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Proper Grounding for Lightning Strikes: A Total Systems Approach

March 20, 2012

Lightning can strike the same place twice, despite popular sentiment. Communications towers are prone to being hit during any major thunderstorm. If those towers are not properly equipped, lightning can cause millions of dollars in damage.

Check your electrical grounding systems and take a total systems approach when evaluating lightning protection, recommends David Brender, National Program Manager for the Copper Development Associations Electrical Program.

“A well-placed lightning strike can seriously compromise any facility, leaving lost equipment and damaged electronics in its wake,” says Brender. “Lightning protection systems give buildings the best chance to avoid this unpredictable damage.”

Lightning protection creates electrical paths of least resistance in order to direct strikes to the ground, away from where they can cause damage. The approach should involve metals with superior conductivity and corrosion resistance. Radials, plates, electrodes, conductors, and wiring are all integral to success.

Ensure you maintain facilities in accordance with current electrical codes, says Tom Sorley, former supervisor of radio services at Orange County’s Public Safety Communications Division in Florida, where he oversaw nine tower sites and 10 emergency response centers in the county.

Grounding systems at Orange County’s facilities complied with codes when they were built, but not all were designed by the same contractor, Sorley says, which eventually caused problems.

“No single individual or contractor understood grounding as a total system,” adds Sorley. “Grounding and its maintenance were just something everyone took for granted. What we have now is a total systems approach to lightning protection.”

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