What You Can Do
(1) Be informed: The best way to keep abreast of changing weather and potentially dangerous conditions is to purchase an NOAA weather radio (NWR) with an alert function. An alert function, if it is activated, will turn the radio on when there is a weather warning. The Internet is another source of up-to-date storm information. Intellicast.com, accuweather.com, weather.com and wunderground.com all provide local interactive radar maps with an animated image of a storm?s severity and track. (2) Have a plan: Know what you and your employees will do during a thunderstorm. With enough warning, you should bring horses inside; however, if lightning has already arrived, don?t risk going out to get horses ? it?s too dangerous. Post emergency contact numbers, including the local fire department, in the barn in plain view. During a storm, unplug all appliances in the barn and the house and avoid running water, because metal pipes can conduct electricity. (3) Get Fire Department Advice: Contact your local fire department and request a representative to come offer fire prevention advice. Keep fire extinguishers at building exits, so if there is a fire and you are outside, you can grab one without walking in (4) Don?t Spare the Rods: Above all else: have lightning rods installed. ?I?m safe,? you may say to yourself. ?My house (or barn) is surrounded by trees.? Don?t kid yourself. Trees are very poor conductors. Rather than grounding a lightning strike, they can actually deflect it directly to a nearby building. To protect your entire farm, there?s no substitute for a professionally installed lightning protection system. Lightning rods won?t prevent a strike, but they may prevent damage if one does occur. And, unless you are an expert, don?t even think about doing it yourself. A spark from an improperly installed system may result in fire, injury or death.
Where to Get Help
There are several local companies that can install lightning rods. One person who specializes in lightning protection systems for houses and farms is Mike Gorman. Proudly carrying on the family business begun by his grandfather almost 100 years ago, Mike has 40 years of experience installing lightning protection. He is quick to emphasize the need for lightning rods in the Aiken area. ?People who move here from other places don?t realize how extreme our lightning is,? he explains. ?Aiken has a lot of underground water and there?s a lot of iron ore in the ground, both of which attract strikes.? Mike, who is from the Midwest, first came to South Carolina to lightning-proof the properties of some of his Chicago and Virginia area clients who had bought places in Aiken. His business here grew quickly. ?I?ve done over 300 farms in the Aiken area now,? he says. ?They call me the Lightning Rod Man.? And that?s a truly accurate moniker. Gorman has provided lightning protection for nearly every house and barn in the horse district, the new Aiken Training Track, McGhee?s Mile, The Stable on the Woods, barns and homes on numerous polo farms and equestrian estates, including New Bridge Polo and Country Club, Fox Hollow, Hatchaway Bridge Farms, Three Runs Plantation, Sage Valley, Bridle Creek, Cedar Creek and Woodside Plantation, to name a few. ?I?ve set up lightning rods for each and every building on many properties,? says Mike. ?Not just houses and stables, but outbuildings, hay barns, run-in sheds, even trees. Horses gather under trees during a storm,? he continues. ?Often it?s a particular tree, and that tree should be protected.? According to Mike, horses are very susceptible to lightning strikes. There were about 12 horses killed by lightning last year in Aiken County, so whatever protection you can offer is well worth it. When he works along with house or barn builders Gorman can install a concealed system in which all the lightning rod materials are hidden within the building. He can also retrofit existing structures. In either case, Mike says, ?the rods themselves can be so ornamental as to be very inconspicuous.? Lightning protection is a straightforward process. Metal lightning rods (sometimes called air terminals) are spaced approximately every 20 feet along the roof peak. Conductor cable is then run from one end of the building to the other and connected to the lightning rods. The cable can be copper or aluminum. Aluminum is slightly less expensive; however, copper is a better conductor and will last the life of the building. Copper-clad ground rods are then driven into the ground, usually to a depth of about ten feet. ?In Aiken,? notes Mike, ?we have to go beyond ten feet to get through the sand and into real ground ?maybe 20 or 30 feet.? As Mike explains, without proper grounding, the lightning rods will be ineffective. The conductor cable runs down the side of the building and connects to the ground rods to complete the
First U.S. patent for a lightning rod, 1839.
circuit and draw the lightning into the ground. ?The shape of the building determines the number of rods and grounds I use, as well as the distance between them,? Mike explains. ?We follow the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Code and the National Fire Protection Association Code, and use only UL-listed materials. For any building with electricity we also install surge protection,? he adds. ?This protects all the electrical equipment and the telephone system from lightning damage.? To protect a tree, a lightning rod is first attached near the top. Then conductor cable is run to a ground rod placed far enough away from the tree so as not to damage the roots if lightning does strike. Mike Gorman offers some cautionary tales about unprotected houses. ?One Friday in mid-April this year, lightning hit a house in Mt. Vintage and burned it to the ground,? says Mike. ?On Saturday there was another severe storm that hit three more houses.? Procrastination was the coconspirator in another local lightning tragedy. ?A couple was building a new home and planned to add a system after the house was done rather than as it was being built,? Mike explains. ?Lightning hit when construction was almost completed. The near-finished house burned to the ground.?
For more information, contact Mike directly at Mike Gorman Lightning Protection Systems: 1-800-786-1136, or 571-235-7974.
Summer 2009 The Aiken Horse 77