Launch Slideshow

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First Strike

First Strike

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    The Mobile Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners uses lightning dissipaters, ½-inch diameter, 18-inch-long rods made of stainless steel that return small lightning strikes back into the atmosphere (larger strikes are routed to ground rods). Photos: McCrory & Williams Inc.

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    Transient voltage surge suppressors should be installed on all AC and DC electrical circuits, including the power-source side and the load side of the transfer switch that's used to switch from the utility company to a generator.

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    Surge suppressors, such as this one mounted to an antenna cable, should be part of any complete lightning protection system.

To maintain city equipment (including grounding for motor control centers, telephones and data systems, and generators) and to reduce the replacement costs for operating equipment in public works buildings such as lift stations and pumping stations, MAWSS targeted 29 sites, including 10 booster stations, six sewer lift stations, six plants and pumping stations, and seven office buildings, for lightning protection.

The impact on pumping equipment and office buildings may be extensive, Hyland says. “There are a variety of problems that can occur if pumps or electrical equipment is knocked out by lightning. It could impact our operation by causing us to go to backup systems, and the cost of repairing or replacing damaged equipment can be high,” he explains. Additionally, telephone systems, security systems (including gates and entry access equipment), and computers can be damaged if lightning protection equipment is not installed.

Future benefits of lightning protection systems, such as reduction of equipment repair and replacement, in addition to improved reliability during harsh weather, outweigh the initial costs: The life of surge suppressors for lightning protection is 10 to 20 years, but lightning rods and ground rods last indefinitely. So far, MAWSS has spent more than $1 million installing lightning protection equipment, and savings have been significant.

Implementing a lightning protection system helps reduce the repair and replacement of damaged equipment. Hyland adds that although some public works agencies have the personnel and expertise to undergo a similar lightning protection project in-house, he suggests that they involve experienced contractors.

— Michael Fielding