Communicating lightning safety effectively

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Monday, 24 January 2011: 11:15 AM
Communicating lightning safety effectively
602/603 (Washington State Convention Center)
William P. Roeder, Private Meteorologist, Rockledge, FL; and R. L. Holle, M. A. Cooper, and S. J. Hodanish
Manuscript (1.2 MB)

Lightning safety requires the same two basic elements of any public education effort. First, the public must be motivated to learn the information. Second, the information taught must be correct, consistent, credible, effective, easy to use, easy to remember, and interesting to learn.

Motivating the public to learn lightning safety is easy. Lightning is the second leading cause of storm deaths in the U.S., killing more than tornadoes or hurricanes. Showing the relative contribution of lightning deaths in the applicable state may be useful in states where lightning is the leading, or near leading, source of weather deaths. Lightning also inflicts life-long debilitating injuries on many more than it kills. Timing of the lightning safety education can significantly increase public motivation. Lightning safety is best taught just before the start of the local lightning season, just before a large lightning outbreak is forecast, and just after a local lightning casualty is reported by the media.

Using proper lightning information is also easy. Much progress has been made on lightning safety over the past two decades and strong consensus exists within the lightning safety community on most of the details on the correct information. That strong consensus and consistency in teaching that information is essential to credibility. Unfortunately, some incorrect or out of date information is still presented by well meaning but misinformed people and media. However, their efforts still serve a useful purpose by increasing lightning safety awareness. While technical precision is laudatory, many of these incorrect points are minor technicalities and do not make significant difference in behavior or outcome so that corrective efforts are better spent where they will more effective.

Most of this paper will present techniques of lightning safety public education that have proven effective, i.e. that make the information useful, easy to use, easy to remember, and interesting to learn. Several slogans have been developed to make lightning safety easy to remember, especially ‘When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!' Fortunately, lightning naturally lends itself to dramatic pictures, video, and sound effects, which helps make lightning safety education interesting. Enlisting the media, especially television, is one of the most efficient ways to spear the lightning safety message to the largest audience possible. Myth busting has proven to be very useful. Interviews with lightning survivors can be very compelling, especially when the survivor is a child or family. Lightning casualty demographics indicate that teaching lightning safety to children 10 years of age and younger has the most impact. An interactive game using a cartoon character ‘Leon the Lightning Safety Lion' was developed to help teach lightning safety to children. Surprisingly, adults also like the game.

The future of lightning safety education could include more dynamic and interactive presentations for our more electronic experienced younger audiences. Examples could include narrated video demonstrations especially in electric power laboratories, video games, etc. Funding is required to develop such materials. In addition, the lightning death rate over the past several years in the U.S. may be stabilizing. This suggests new education techniques for maintaining a constant level may be more appropriate than past techniques, or new approaches may be needed for further reductions in the lightning death rate.

Considerable information and resources for teaching lightning safety are at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency lightning safety website (www.lightnignsafety.noaa.gov). Assistance on teaching lightning safety is available from the corresponding author.