By Melinda Huser, Director of Human Resources/Risk Management
In the summer of 2021, the City of Cape Canaveral Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) was severely damaged by lightning resulting in a loss of telecommunications and monitoring devices, pumps and the WRF’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition operating system. Because of the interruption, staff was required to initiate 24-hour operations for several days to ensure WRF processes were not interrupted, and a continuation of services was maintained. In addition, this event resulted in a high insurance claim.
The WRF is one of the city’s most critical pieces of infrastructure and must be protected from all manner of natural phenomenon to avoid a loss of services that may negatively impact the health, wellbeing and safety of residents, business owners and staff, as well as the surrounding natural environment. Given its exposed location along the Banana River Lagoon and abundance of tall conductive surfaces, the WRF remains vulnerable to lightning strikes. Also, due to its unique geography and atmospheric conditions, the State of Florida is considered the lightning capital of the U.S. according to the National Weather Service. Specifically, the corridor between Tampa Bay and Titusville receives the most lightning strikes in the U.S. each year, with an average of 56 strikes annually per square mile.
Lightning protection system installed
To increase the operational effectiveness of the WRF during all weather conditions, increase onsite safety for staff and enhance the overall resilience of this infrastructure, the city’s Resilience Division recommended the installation of a new Lightning Protection System (LPS) that consists of two electrical field variable balancers. These devices create a protective sphere around the entirety of the WRF that eliminates the possibility of direct lightning strikes within their given area of protection. These devices work to balance the ambient electrical field by constantly draining current from the field, both positive and negative, and reduce the potential difference that naturally builds up during a storm. This process works to eliminate any upward streamers (i.e., the charge trying to find its way up towards the cloud) and effectively camouflages or hides structures and objects from prospective lightning strikes seeking to make contact with the ground that are descending from clouds and attempting to make a connection. According to the vendor, this lightning-free protected zone is where lightning cannot directly strike; and this technology has been used at thousands of locations worldwide with no recorded strikes at any protected facility in over 15 years.
Since the installation at the city’s WRF, it has proven highly effective. Currently, the city is in the process of installing two additional systems at another city facility/location that is prone to lighting strikes. The cost of this mitigation is being offset by a Preferred TIPS Matching Grant of $5,000 that the city was recently awarded for other safety measures. Thank you Preferred for your continual support!