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The Next Generation of Lightning Protection
By: Frank Dlouhy, President, Omega Power
         Ben Franklin’s studies in the fields of electricity and lightning led him to invent the basic lightning rod and many of the structural lightning protection principles that are still in use today. Times have changed and so has modern lightning protection….
          As the fire chief of Philadelphia, Franklin observed a pattern to the many fires plaguing the city. The tallest structures in town were the wood church steeples and lightning strikes were burning them to the ground.
          Franklin’s research into lightning and electricity revealed that they were one and the same. His simple solution to the lightning problem was derived from basic electrical principles. By placing a metal rod on the highest point of the steeple and connecting it to a metal wire that was connected as directly as possible to an earth ground, most of the time, he could conduct the intense electrical current generated during a lightning strike… safely around the wood structure. Thus, basic structural lightning protection was born.
          Lightning rods made his job as fire chief much easier. Unlike 1776, modern steel and concrete buildings with complex electrical and communication networks are NOT at risk of wood structural fire due to lightning. The real risks to today’s modern buildings involve the shut down of critical command and control systems.
          Unprotected electrical systems are at risk and the consequences can range from complete shutdown of services to severely damaged and destroyed electrical equipment. Gradual increases in equipment maintenance costs are another consequence of poor electrical system protection.
          The problem: in all too many cases, when funds are appropriate to install ‘lightning protection’, that generally means costly lightning rods on top of steel and concrete structures. Frequently, the only suppression in this scenario is installed at the main electrical service. This approach has been proven to be ineffective in today’s modern buildings.
          When one considers the low risk of lightning induced fire to steel and concrete and the high risk of surge damage to sensitive electronics in the same building, funding the lightning rods in place of comprehensive surge suppression can be a costly decision.
          IEEE has stated that the application of conventional metal lightning rods on all steel structures is, in most cases, ‘unnecessary’. Yet, everyday, we watch as a 200 year old technology, designed to prevent fire to church steeples is applied to steel and concrete structures in an attempt to stop electrical equipment failures. Lightning rods do NOTHING to help protect electrical systems from the high energy that is injected into the structure during a strike.
          Surge suppression is now the most important part of a comprehensive lightning protection system. Protection that is critical for many of today’s high tech buildings.

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