Lightning Safety

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May 31, 2018

By Beth Druvenga, M.S. Ed, LAT, ATC

Across the country summer sports have begun to trickle outside, the anticipation for warm weather building along with the anticipation of severe weather and storms. With that in mind, now is a good time to review what the guidelines are when there is lightning in the area and your sports teams, athletes and patients are spread across the great outdoors.

Lightning is a rapid release of electricity that can be in a cloud, cloud to air or cloud to ground.1 Thunder is always a precursor to lightning, though you may not always hear it because the thunder is so far away. So the general rule of thumb is if there is thunder, there is lightning nearby.1 In the past 10 years, there have been 277 fatalities due to lightning.2 The National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Position Statement on Lightning Safety suggests creating a Lightning Specific Emergency Action Plan which encompasses promoting awareness, creating a chain of command, determining the safest location to seek shelter, having a reliable weather monitoring system and creating specific guidelines for return to play.3 This should not only include athletes, but spectators as well.

Lightning guidelines should specify where spectators are to go in the event of a dangerous storm; staying on the bleachers, an open-air concession stand or seeking refuge under trees or an open concourse are still a risk for being struck by lightning. Spectators should be sent back to their cars, or a specific building where they can seek shelter until the storm threat passes.

It is important for athletic training departments to create a lightning specific emergency action plan as over half of thunderstorms occur in the afternoon5 and as Athletic Trainers can attest, over half of summer activities are held outdoors between the hours of 2:30pm and 6:00pm. Athletic Trainers, coaches and administration should be educated on when to clear the field.3,5 This includes checking local weather reports daily before practices or events to check for storms building in the area, identifying if thunder and lightning are approaching via a weather source with local lightning strikes and knowing the safest location for participants and spectators to seek shelter.3,5 Education also encompasses when play may be allowed to resume; 30 minutes from the last lightning strike is the general rule when deciding when to return to the playing field.3,5

As with your department’s location specific emergency action plans, the lightning specific emergency action plan should be updated regularly and reviewed annually.4 The plan should include responsibilities of Athletic Trainers, coaches and administrators in the instance of a storm.3 It should also include the nearest safe shelter and location of an automated external defibrillator (AED).3-6 Death from lightning strike is caused by cardiac arrest, therefore quick action and access to personnel trained in cardio pulmonary resuscitation and automated external defibrillator usage is imperative.6

For more information on developing lightning safety policies and procedures or other policies and procedures for your athletic training facility, visit the BOC Guiding Principles for AT Policy and Procedure Development document and online tool. The document and online tool offer a template to guide the development of policies and procedures including EAPs. Learn more at



When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

StruckByLightning.Org (originally by author)

Half An Hour Since Thunder Roars, Now Okay To Go Outdoors!

StruckByLightning.Org (originally by author)

Lightning Kills--Play It Safe!

National Weather Service

If You Can See It, Flee It!

National Lightning Safety Institute

If You Can Hear It, Clear It

National Lightning Safety Institute

Don’t Get Fried, Go Inside!


Don’t Be a Fool, Get Out of The Pool


Don’t Be Lame, End The Game!


Source: Roeder, William. “Recent Updates in Lightning Safety.” 20th International Lightning Detection Conference, 2008


1. “Severe Weather 101: Frequently Asked Questions about Lightning.” The National Severe Storms Laboratory. Accessed March 29, 2018.

2. “U.S. Lightning Deaths.” National Weather Service. Accessed March 29, 2018.

3. Walsh K, Cooper MA, Holle R, Rakov V, Roeder W, & Ryan M. “National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation.” J Athl Train. 2013;48(2):258-270.

4. Andersen JC, Courson R, Kleiner D, & McLoda T. “National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: Emergency planning in athletics.” J Athl Train. 2002;37(1):99-104.

5. Bennett B. “A model lightning safety policy for athletics.” J Athl Train. 1997;32(8):251-253

6. Roeder W. Presentation at: “Recent updates in lightning safety.” 20th International Lightning Detection Conference, 2008.


About the Author


Beth Druvenga is an Athletic Trainer currently living in northern Virginia. She has experience working in both a collegiate and high school setting. Druvenga is originally from Iowa where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Athletic Training from Central College in 2012. She graduated from Old Dominion University in 2014 with a Master of Science in Education. Her professional interests include patient-reported outcomes, psychology of injury and rehabilitation as well as using yoga to increase flexibility.

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