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What to Do When Lightning Strikes

Planning for the worst may be the best protection, experts say


Once you're indoors, stay away from windows and doors, as well as from anything plugged in or anything that has a direct connection to the plumbing, according to Jensenius. "So, no washing dishes or taking showers or baths," he said. Talking on a cordless phone is OK, but stay off corded phones, he advised. If you're in a car, the rubber tires won't protect you, but lightning will travel along the outside metal of the car. To stay safe, don't touch the metal door handles. Also, avoid touching the windshield if your car's antenna is built into it, and leave the radio alone, too, he cautioned.

If you're outside and can't find a safe shelter, look for an area with shorter trees, but keep some distance from the trees. "If you're with a group, spread out," Jensenius said. "This might actually increase the risk of someone getting hit, but if you're all together and that area gets hits, there won't be anyone who can help," he explained.

"Avoid being, or being near, the tallest object in your immediate area," Jensenius added. "But don't be out in the open or near isolated trees, either."

If you're on the water, Walsh said, get to shore as quickly as possible. If you're in a pool, get out and seek shelter. And, don't go outside or in the water again until at least 30 minutes after the lightning flash or the last clap of thunder.

If you haven't been able to find appropriate shelter and suddenly feel your hair standing on end, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that you crouch down as low as you can, placing your weight on the balls of your feet so that as little of you is connected to the ground as possible. Cover your ears with your hands and put your head between your knees to make yourself the smallest target possible.

If the worst happens, and you or someone you're with is struck by lightning, the first concern is sudden cardiac arrest.

"Lightning can immediately stop your heart," Walsh said. "CPR needs to be started right away." If you happen to be where there's a portable automated external defibrillator, Jensenius said, use it if the person's heart has stopped.

"If someone is moving around, or if you know they have a heartbeat, take care of others who don't," Walsh advised.

Other problems that could occur from a lightning strike are fractures, ruptured ear drums and concussions, according to Walsh. "People don't always come back to where they were before the lightning strike," she said. "Some people have problems that last the rest of their lives. They may have trouble sleeping or headaches."

Jensenius added that some people experience burns, and others have trouble concentrating, are more forgetful, get easily distracted or have personality changes after being hit by lightning. Treatment, he said, depends on the particular injury, though it begins with getting immediate medical help for anyone who's been struck.

And, before that, it starts with a plan.


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