The Cost of Lightning

On average, there are 100 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes around the world every second. This translates to more than 8.5 million lightning strikes a day!1 From 2006 to 2016, an average of 31 people died each year in the United States due to lightning.2 Lightning detection and protection are important topics for industrial and business facilities, as the potential for injury and resulting lightning costs are high. There is also the potential for property damage, employee death, and HazMat incidents, such as fires or failing equipment. Between 2007 and 2011 the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that lightning fires causes an average of 43 million dollars in damage to industrial storage and manufacturing facilities.2 With the average hourly cost of infrastructure failure ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, the $43 million figure does not consider the billions of dollars that Fortune 1000 companies lose annually in unplanned downtimes.3


Refinery Lightning Susceptibility

Refineries are particularly sensitive to lightning damage due to the amounts of flammable and toxic materials commonly found on site. Lightning strikes can kill personnel on impact, ignite storage units with direct hits, and cause electrical system failures that result in disaster. From 2009 to 2012, there were over 320 refinery shutdowns due to electric disruptions and power failures.6 Although the exact causes of electrical failures are often not disclosed publicly, a review of a few recent events can demonstrate the destructive nature of lightning strikes at a refinery. Motiva’s Port Arthur, Texas facility experienced lightning in March of 2009 that led to a power outage and stated a fire. The lightning caused a crude unit, two hydrotreaters, and a delayed coker to go offline.7 In April 2012, lightning struck Valero’s Norco, Los Angeles facility, and they experienced a power surge, causing the hydrocracking unit to malfunction. This resulted in Sulfur dioxide and Hydrogen sulfide emissions being released during the flaring. Instances of refineries sustaining lightning damage are all too common, but they can be avoided with the implementation and integration of the right technologies.


Is the 30/30 Rule Enough?

The common approach to lightning safety by institutions and private enterprises alike is the 30/30 rule (read our Why the 30/30 Rule Isn’t Enough post to better understand the shortcomings of this approach to lightning safety). At a time when lightning instances across the United States are expected to increase by 150,000 strikes annually, skimping out on lightning warning systems is not a wise choice.4 As the number of lightning strikes are increasing, so are the cost of residential and industrial insurance claims; the average insurance claim of lightning damage increased by 20 percent annually, largely due to increased reliance on electrical systems and devices by residential and industrial structures alike.2 In analyzing the return on investment of a lightning detection system, one would be hard pressed to argue against a lightning warning system implementation.


Lightning Safety Explained

An optical lightning strike sensor coupled with an electric field meter.

Lightning safety can be broken down into two key categories: lightning detection and lightning protection. Lightning protection focuses on the multitude of available technologies to provide electric grounding, bonding, surge protection, and structural protection, but requirements and standards vary greatly. Electrical grounding, bonding, and surge protection are all parts of standard building practices to prevent power surges, should lightning strike a power line. While lightning rods and arrestors are effective at protecting a structure from lightning, they are not always mandated. Even states like Florida, with highest density of lightning strikes in the United States only mandate that hospitals, nursing homes, and educational institutions have lightning protection5. Other types of structures are regulated based on proximity to ignition sources and the types of materials on site; however, lightning protection is primarily a design consideration based on a risk assessment and return on investment.

Lightning detection systems, on the other hand, focus on identifying current strikes, analyzing the atmospheric electric field, and predicting the potential of future lightning strikes; however, lightning detection systems do not actively mitigate the effects of lightning strikes. They allow advanced warning to those most exposed to the effects of a lightning strike. By tracking actual strikes in conjunction with the surrounding electric field, safety supervisors can track the potential of lightning strike long before it occurs. This gives them the necessary time to warn those furthest out from safety to begin looking for shelter as well as the tools to determine when an all clear signal should be given.

A comprehensive lightning mitigation system would have both types of technologies present. Lightning protection technologies such as grounding, bonding, and surge protectors would protect the facility’s electrical system and components during the event of a strike, while lightning rods and arrestors would be able to dissipate a lightning strike away from structures containing sensitive materials. Lightning detection systems, on the other hand, would provide automatic lightning detection capable of tracking the number of strikes, their distance to the facility, and the time at which the strikes occurred as well as tracking the electric field potential to predict the likelihood of a strike long before one occurs.


The Simpler, Smarter, and Safer Solution

Campbell Scientific Lightning Warning System integrates seamlessly into the SAFER One interface. The system alarm state is easily tracked and individual sensor data can also be accessed from the interface.

SAFER Systems has partnered with Campbell Scientific to integrate their comprehensive lightning detection system with the SAFER One™ platform. The two-fold solution includes two separate technologies that work together as a singular lightning warning system to provide the earliest warning for lightning strikes before, during and after a storm. The integrated solution can detect the likelihood of a lightning strike as well as the time, number, and distance of actual lightning strikes. The Lightning Detection integration with SAFER One™ gives site safety managers the tools and information they need to make the call and informed decisions when it comes to the safety of their personnel on-site. Historical sensor and system alarm state data are easily retrieved into convenient reports allowing further analysis of atmospheric conditions at the facility.



For information about SAFER Systems Lightning Detection Solutions contact sales via email at or call 805.383.9711.



  1. National Geographic
  2. Insurance Information Institute
  3. International Data Corporation
  4. Science
  5. NFPA 780
  6. Digital Refining
  7. ICIS

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