Scientists Cite Failure of Non-Standard Lightning Rods in Death of Adventure Island Lifeguard

Apr 17, 2012, 08:55 ET from Lightning Safety Alliance

TAMPA, Fla., April 17, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A report released late last week by Z. A. Hartono and I. Robiah, two of the world's leading experts on lightning safety, raises serious questions about the lightning protection equipment installed at Tampa, FL's Adventure Island water park.

In September 2011, a 21-year-old Adventure Island lifeguard was struck by lightning and killed while helping to evacuate patrons from the Key West Rapids water slide. The outdoor water slide is located between two lightning protection installations, each of which, according to the manufacturer, provides a zone of protection against lightning strikes extending as much as 109 meters. The systems rely on a French-made device, called the Prevectron air terminal, which is not approved by any U.S. safety code or standard and is not supported by independent scientific experts or field data.  The product is marketed in the U.S. by National Lightning Protection Corporation of Colorado.

According to the report by Hartono and Robiah, the lifeguard's death by a lightning strike within the supposed zone of protection provides firm evidence that the actual protection radius is much smaller than what is claimed by the manufacturer.  These findings underscore longstanding claims by lightning researchers that the so-called "early streamer emission" (ESE) theory on which the Prevectron is based is ineffective.  "This is the type of tragedy that we have been fearing," said Steve Humeniuk spokesperson for the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA). "Anyone who has a basic understanding of the physics of lightning realizes that the claims of protection made for these devices are simply not realistic."

In 2005, a U.S. District Court in Arizona issued an injunction prohibiting three companies from claiming that the Prevectron and other ESE air terminals "provide a measurable zone of protection, greater than systems installed in accordance with [U.S. safety standard], NFPA 780, and/or that the system can function effectively to protect open spaces."

"The fact that these ESE systems don't comply with any U.S. standards should raise serious questions with every architect, engineer or facility manager responsible for selecting lightning protection systems," said Bud VanSickle, executive director for the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI).  Existing U.S. standards governing the manufacture and installation of lightning protection systems are developed and updated by Underwriters Laboratory (UL), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI).  None of these standards authorize lightning protection for open spaces in the manner employed at Adventure Island.

Z. A. Hartono, the lead author of the study released last week, is an electrical engineer and a noted lightning protection expert and researcher.  He has been involved in diagnosing complex lightning problems and designing effective lightning protection systems for large facilities including the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and numerous major facilities in Malaysia.  A full copy of Hartono's report is available at

SOURCE Lightning Safety Alliance