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Automated Lightning Detection System Keeps 17 Parks in Cape Coral, Fla., Safe

The system is powered by a lightning network that includes more than 1,200 lightning sensors across 40 countries.

We’ve all been there: counting the seconds after we hear the rumble of thunder to figure out how imminent the danger of actually being struck by lightning may be. Now the residents of Cape Coral, Fla., are turning to a much more sophisticated method: an automated lightning detection solution. 

With the second highest number of lightning strikes in the nation last year, the city of Cape Coral deals with lightning storms on a regular basis. Previously relying on park supervisors (many of whom are volunteers) to alert visitors of lightning risks using a handheld device, the city was primed to find an easier, more reliable system. 

After reviewing several products, the city implemented Earth Networks’ automated Outdoor Alerting System (OAS) across 17 parks in July. The system is powered by Earth Networks’ Total Lighting Network, which uses more than 1,200 lightning sensors across 40 countries to act as the largest lightning network in the world. The access to widespread sensors expands the alerting system’s capacity for information and accuracy.

The sensors also are able to differentiate cloud-to-ground and in-cloud lightning, increasing detection accuracy by 250 percent and dramatically reducing the risk of spectators being struck by lightning.  

While its capabilities are sophisticated, the way the system functions is fairly straightforward: The data sensed from the Total Lightning Network is processed through algorithms and then sent down to specific areas to alert of inclement weather and possible lightning risk. When an alert is sent, park visitors hear a loud horn and see a flashing light, signaling them to leave the park and find shelter.  

Beyond the onsite alert, visitors can access an OAS dashboard via the city website on a computer or mobile device, and watch how far away the lightning strikes are to their park. What’s more, a live weather screen allows users to track 50 different types of weather elements on a map to determine potential safety risks in the near future.   

So far the system has proven to be successful, said Art Avellino, athletic and revenue superintendent for the city. 

“There was an educational process, but after the end of the year, people had learned,” he said, noting that the city rolled out posters explaining the system and conducted several emergency test alerts at the park to help citizens acclimate to the new process. “After a while, people learn to clear the park.” 

For Avellino, the decision to implement innovative tools like this into public works is simple.

“It makes it cut and dry. The idea is to make the participants safe,” he said. “If it can tell you if lighting is two miles away from you — why wouldn’t you use it?”