HARTFORD, Conn., Jan. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Haiti is no stranger to natural disasters and severe weather, as devastating earthquakes, hurricanes and floods have taken their toll on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Located some 700 miles off the Florida coastline, Haiti is also extremely vulnerable to lightning, which is a common weather threat that impacts the lives and livelihood of many Haitians on a frequent basis.
For years, Haiti's St. Helene's Home (NPFS) and Orphanage has suffered repeated lightning strikes to its facility, which consists of 29 buildings on a 13-acre compound. Located 5000 ft. above sea level on the top of the highest point in the Kenscoff mountains, the compound is especially vulnerable to severe thunderstorms with frequent lightning posing serious safety concerns for the children—including many who are severely handicapped and disabled. Thanks to an outpouring of support from two nonprofits in the lightning protection industry, St. Helene's Home and Orphanage will soon enjoy relief from the dangerous and costly weather hazard which has routinely destroyed life-sustaining electrical equipment, critical appliances, computers and lighting systems; while also threatening essential housing structures located on the premises.
In 2012 when the orphanage was besieged by an especially severe thunderstorm, Gena Heraty, director of special needs programs for NPFS, began researching what could be done to protect the children and the property.
"I had heard people talk about lightning rods, but knew nothing about what they were or how they worked," said Heraty. "So when my internet investigations found a nonprofit organization that actually responded to my chance email AND offered a solution, I was surprised and truly amazed!"
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), responded to Heraty's email and quickly enlisted support from its partners at the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) to plan a relief mission known as the "Building Lightning Safe Communities Haiti Project" to provide essential lightning protection systems for the orphanage's critical buildings. Launching the first phase of the project, volunteer board members from the two nonprofits (Mitchell Guthrie, Guy Maxwell and Mark Morgan), traveled to the orphanage in 2013 to survey the site and outline the necessary manpower, materials and cost to provide lightning protection systems for the various facility structures.
"The July 2013 site visit to the orphanage unveiled serious challenges in terms of terrain, grounding and deteriorating conditions with the electrical grid—a host of problems that our lightning protection team has not had a great deal of experience in dealing with," said Guy Maxwell, LSA president and owner of Maxwell Lightning Protection of Florida.
Maxwell, a LPI-certified Master Installer/Designer whose firm has provided countless systems for structures and rides at Walt Disney World, worked meticulously for months to prepare 30 pages of detailed lightning protection designs for the orphanage complex. "The challenges we uncovered at the Kenscoff complex made it necessary to reevaluate the scope of the lightning protection plan and prompted a need to expand the industry team to include more installers with electrical expertise," explained Maxwell.
In addition to the challenges posed by the terrain and site conditions, funding for the lightning protection materials, tools and crew travel was a costly concern for project organizers. As plans developed, it became clear that the success of the lightning protection mission would ultimately rely on industry donations of money, time and talent.
"It is amazing to think that a call to action email to LPI and LSA members helped secure nearly $50,000 in cash and material donations to make the project a reality for the orphanage," said Jennifer Morgan, principal at ECLE, a Connecticut-based lightning protection equipment manufacturer responsible for overseeing the Haiti project logistics.
Answering the industry's petition, an outpouring of donors and volunteers, dubbed the "Honor Roll of Haiti Project Sponsors" http://www.lightningsafe.org/haitiproject8.html came together to donate the necessary funds, equipment and labor. Under Morgan's guidance, ECLE secured additional donations of relief supplies, clothing and essential resources, which were packed with the lightning protection materials and shipped from Winsted, Connecticut to NPH's US-based office in Miami for delivery to the Haiti orphanage.
"There has never been a project like this in my years in the lightning protection industry; it is truly an historic endeavor," added Morgan.
Now that years of planning are complete, the volunteer team of ten lightning protection installers is departing for Haiti this week to complete the most important phase of the project, and Heraty is anxiously awaiting their arrival.
"I hope the lightning protection crew will pass on some maintenance skills to our local team, fall in love with our place and find some small ways to continue to support us when they go back home," said Heraty. "Here in NPFS Haiti, we are very committed to what we are doing and are so grateful to everyone that helps us. I only wish I could look every single person that has helped us in the eye and shake their hands to have them feel just how much I appreciate their support!"
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is a not-for-profit, nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and education and is a leading resource for lightning protection information and system requirements. Visit the LPI website at www.lightning.org for more information.
The Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) is a nonprofit, national league of lightning protection professionals and consumers dedicated to the promotion of lightning protection and lightning safety. Visit the LSA website at www.lightningsafetyalliance.org for more information.
St. Helene's Home and Orphanage in Haiti is home to over 400 children, hosting primary and secondary schooling on its property to provide education for its patrons and an additional 350 children from the Kenscoff community. The Kay Christine facility, also located inside the St. Helene's complex, provides care and housing to over 30 children and adults with neurological conditions and special needs. Visit https://www.nph.org/haiti or https://nphspecialneedshaiti.com/ to learn more about the orphanage and discover ways that your donations or sponsorship can make a difference.
SOURCE Lightning Safety Alliance