Last Sunday, August 5th at Pocono Raceway, after a rain-shortened race around 5 p.m., multiple lightning strikes killed one man and injured nine others.
Northern Pennsylvania resident Brian Zimmerman, 41, was killed was as stood near his car at the Pocono Raceway parking lot. Another race fan was transported to the hospital in critical condition but was later upgraded to stable. The other eight people were treated at the hospital for minor to moderate injuries and then were released.
Pocono race officials commented a day later that they warned the estimated 85,000 race fans to take cover several times as the weather took a turn for the worse. They also posted messages to on their Twitter account toward the end of the race telling fans to “seek shelter as severe lightning and heavy winds are in our area.” Race fans also took to social media, via Facebook and twitter, complained that the warnings to seek shelter came too late and after worst the storm was already hitting the track.
The severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the area at 4:12 p.m. and NASCAR called the race 42 minutes later at 4:54 p.m.
NASCAR is reviewing the information as well as their logs to determine the exact details of their announcements to seek shelter and how the track carried out its emergency procedures.
It should be noted that NASCAR races differ greatly from other major sporting events in two ways. First, unlike NFL or MLB stadiums, racetracks do not have concourses where fans can go during severe weather to be safe. Second, due to the noise from the racecars it can be very difficult and in certain places at the race tracks impossible to hear announcements.
While, there may not an easy fix to relaying emergency information to such a large number of people at such an event. However, I have no doubt that NASCAR will closely take a look their procedures and make the changes needed to keep fans as safe as possible.
With that said, there are some tips that everyone can follow to be proactive and help to protect themselves. Here are six great tips to keep you and your family safe from the National Lightning Safety Institute.
1. PLAN in advance your evacuation and safety measures. When you first see lightning or hear thunder, activate your emergency plan. Now is the time to go to a building or a vehicle. Lightning often precedes rain, so don't wait for the rain to begin before suspending activities.
2. IF OUTDOORS...Avoid water. Avoid the high ground. Avoid open spaces. Avoid all metal objects including electric wires, fences, machinery, motors, power tools, etc. Unsafe places include underneath canopies, small picnic or rain shelters, or near trees. Where possible, find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully enclosed metal vehicle such as a car, truck or a van with the windows completely shut. If lightning is striking nearby when you are outside, you should:
A. Crouch down. Put feet together. Place hands over ears to minimize hearing damage from thunder.
B. Avoid proximity (minimum of 15 ft.) to other people.
3. IF INDOORS... Avoid water. Stay away from doors and windows. Do not use the telephone. Take off head sets. Turn off, unplug, and stay away from appliances, computers, power tools, & TV sets. Lightning may strike exterior electric and phone lines, inducing shocks to inside equipment.
4. SUSPEND ACTIVITIES for 30 minutes after the last observed lightning or thunder.
5. INJURED PERSONS do not carry an electrical charge and can be handled safely. Apply First Aid procedures to a lightning victim if you are qualified to do so. Call 911 or send for help immediately.
6. KNOW YOUR EMERGENCY TELEPHONE NUMBERS.
Teach this safety slogan:
"If you can see it, flee it; if you can hear it, clear it."
Nationally this year, so far, there have been 19 lightning fatalities, which is about average according to a lightning safety specialist with the National Weather Service.