Helping Others When Lightning Strikes

September 18, 2014

Lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. In 2010 there were 29 fatalities and 182 injuries from lightning.

Harris County Emergency Corps (HCEC) treated several people struck by lightning in 2013 which is why it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, protect yourself and react quickly to help others when thunderstorm occur.

“A common myth about lightning strikes is that you will be shocked if you touch a lightning victim,” said Dr. Cameron Decker, Medical Director at HCEC. “It is absolutely safe to help a lightning strike victim. In fact, 70% of lightning strikes are not fatal. A lightning strike victim may have a good prognosis if treated early by EMS providers, which is why it is so important to act quickly by calling 9-1-1 and starting CPR if indicated.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lightning most often strikes people who work outside or engage in outdoor recreational activities. “The majority of work-related lightning strikes occur in Florida and Texas, two states where seasonal lightning deaths and injuries are high.”

You can take several steps in order to protect yourself from a lightning strike:

Remember the 30/30 Lightning Safety Rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.

  • Get inside a home, building, or hard top automobile. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • Remember, rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal.
  • Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades or curtains.
  • Unplug any electronic equipment well before the storm arrives.

 Be Safe Outdoors:

  • If you are in a forest, seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees.
  • If you are in an open area, go to a low place such as a ravine or valley.
  • If you are on open water, get to land and find shelter immediately.
  • If you feel your hair stand on end (an indicator that lightning is about to strike), squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground. DO NOT lie flat on the ground.

For example, if you find yourself in a temperate climate with frequent thunderstorms, the last thing you should do is walk around open, hilly terrain with a metal rod – yet golfers do this every day.

After a Thunderstorm or Lightning Strike

If lightning strikes you or someone you know, call 9-1-1 assistance as soon as possible. The following are things you should check when you attempt to give aid to a victim of lightning:

Breathing – if breathing has stopped, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

  • Heartbeat – if the heart has stopped, administer CPR.
  • Pulse – if the victim has a pulse and is breathing, look for other possible injuries. Check for burns where the lightning entered and left the body. Also be alert for nervous system damage, broken bones and loss of hearing and eyesight.

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a thunderstorm hazard:

Severe Thunderstorm Watch – Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning – Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.

 For more information on lightning strikes and how to protect yourself, visit

About Harris County Emergency Corps

Harris County Emergency Corps (HCEC) is a nonprofit, EMS provider, responding to 9-1-1 emergency medical calls to approximately 400,000 citizens of Northern Harris County. HCEC is a premier emergency medical services organization committed to preserving lives through clinical excellence, progressive medicine, and professional service. For more information, visit