By Ogova Ondego
Published February 17, 2017
Whenever it rains in Kenya, residents have to contend with more than just power outage and floods. Here, lightning is always lurking behind the clouds, waiting for its chance to strike and kill people and animals and destroy property.
Perhaps to manage or limit the damage of this naturally occurring phenomenon, Kenya has been categorised into three zones – high risk, medium risk and low risk –according to flash densities of lightning.
The high-risk region covers western Kenya that comprises the area previously known as Nyanza and Western and parts of Rift Valley provinces). The medium risk zone encompasses south and central Rift Valley and Nairobi and Central provinces. North-Eastern and Coast provinces and north Rift Valley fall under the low risk areas.
Although lightning is described as being a work of God, you nevertheless can lessen the risk of becoming its victim. How so?
The Kenya Standard Code of Practice for the Protection of Structures Against Lightning (KS 04-504) says all public buildings (schools, churches, hospitals, commercial buildings) in high risk areas be fitted with anti-lightning devices.
According to experts, the law requires that all structures more than 30 metres high or 10-storied buildings be protected against lightning.
A website called ABB.com recommends a lightning protection system that takes care of both internal and external lightning protection. It describes External lightning protection as one that is “designed to protect the fabric of a structure and the lives of the people inside by channelling the lightning strike in a safe and controlled manner to the earth termination network.”
Internal lightning protection, on the other hand, protects electronic systems in a building that, if struck, would cripple services delivered through Computers, Data communication networks, Building management systems, PABX telephone exchanges, CCTV equipment, Fire and burglar alarms, Telecom, Base stations, Uninteruptible power supplies (UPSs), Programmable logic controllers (PLCs), Plant sensors, and Telemetry and data acquisition equipment.
Writing in a local daily in 1995 a Lightning experts caution members of the public against tying metallic strings and wires from trees to buildings and carrying pointed objects with their sharp tips pointing to the sky because they could attract lightning.
A newspaper article by a lightning specialist called Ayeka Kilei suggests that trees be planted at least 10 metres away from buildings to act as natural lightning arrestors to ensure greater security against lightning. To be effective, he suggests such trees be those that grow to at least 10 metres high. Additionally, they should be of soft “liquid” barks, with long deep roots that do not spread out. As the trees usually attract lightning, such buildings could be harmed by thermal or mechanical effects in case they are struck.
Kilei recommends that the natural tree protection be reinforced with electrical lightning arresters. He argues that all buildings of less than 10 metres high which accommodate many people should have tree protection irrespective of the zone in which they are situated.
Experts say an average lightning bolt carries tens of millions of volts which kill instantly. They suggest that if it starts raining in lightning-prone areas, one can protect oneself by going indoors. They highly recommend all buildings at risk be fitted with lightning arrestor rods.
Awake! magazine says that non-grounded structures with metal roofs and places near antennae and metal fences and metal clotheslines be avoided whenever it rains. Other places to be avoided are open areas like lakes, fields and lone tall trees.
While swimmers and surfers are advised to leave the water as soon as it starts raining, boaters should also go ashore as soon as practical.
“If it is unsafe to do so, seek protection beneath a high structure, such as a bridge or a jetty. Be sure that the mast and stays of a sailboat are adequately grounded to the water,” Awake! Says.
The publication advises drivers to slow down or park away from trees and power lines.
As people have been killed while sheltering under lone tall trees, experts recommend that if one must shelter under a tree, one should do so only where there are many trees and should only do so from those lowest in height.
If the rain comes suddenly, catching one unawares in an open field or golf course far away from any building, experts recommend that one squats or hugs one’s knees.
“Do not lie down flat as it is important that you provide as small a striking service as possible,” says Awake! “Crouch down (singly), preferably in a hollow, with feet together, and remove metal objects from head and body… avoid being the highest object in the vicinity.”
Cautioning against flying kites or flying model airplanes with control wires, the magazine also warns against handling long or metallic objects such as umbrellas, fishing rods or golf clubs in the open.
For those indoors, experts advise that they avoid contact with electrical conductors such as fireplaces, electronic gadgets or metal plumbing.
“It may be wise to stay out of the shower or bathtub, and also try to avoid using the phone,” Awake!advises. “Unplug computers, televisions and other appliances, since they could be damaged if the house is struck.”
The publication notes that before a storm, one should disconnect external antennae and power leads to radio and television sets. “Disconnect computer modems and power sources.”
However, should someone be struck by lightning even after having taken the above precautions, Kilei says those near the victim, instead of fleeing in panic, should check whether his heart is still beating then administer First Aid. Artificial respiration should be applied if the victim is choking or losing breath.
Awake! Recommends that people near the victim administer cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to the victim without delay as not doing so could lead to the victim’s brain getting damaged if he survives.