Lightning Strikes

We have seen a LOT of lightning strikes over 35 years in the IT

business.  All have one thing in common; some electronics are 

damaged immediately.  The ones that still work after the lightning 

strike will have a much shorter life span.  There are three types of 

lightning strikes:  direct strike to the building, a near strike, ie: to 

a tree nearby, and a strike to the electrical grid.  This story is a

direct strike.

One of our customers was in a wood frame building with wood shake siding.  It was a two-story building with our customer on the top floor.  Most of the network wiring was in the suspended ceiling of the first floor.  We did not know how well built the building was until the lightning strike.  With hard rain and a lot of lightning, a strike hit the roof and took out the bathroom vent motor (which vented all 6 bathrooms in the building), and left a smoldering mass in the attic.  Etch marks remained on the wet siding where the lightning sought ground.  Our customer said the lightning strike was the loudest noise they had ever heard.  Then the power went out.

All our customer’s PCs were on good triplite surge protectors and the server was on an APC uninterruptible power source (UPS).  After the lightning strike, all the surge protectors and the UPS were smoking.  Because the strike was during business hours, it was obvious what had happened.  All the Network cards were fried, and the network switch was toast.  Fortunately, all the PCs and the server came back up.  We replaced all the network cards (NIC’s), the surge protectors and the UPS.  They were back up the same day.  Anything that was not plugged into a surge protector did not work, ie: coffee pot, shredder, TV, pencil sharpener, etc.  They patted themselves on the back for buying the “good stuff” for surge protection.

The bad news started about 2 weeks later.  A drive went out in the server.  The next week a power supply went out in a PC.  That same week a monitor went out, and so on for the next 6 months.   It was costing our customer a fortune “upgrading” their system piece by piece.  They went back to their insurance company saying they were incurring massive failures and suspected it was delayed failures due to the lightning strike.

The insurance company was sympathetic but would not pay any more because they repaired what had failed from the initial strike.  Did I say our customer was a law firm?  They dedicated a day to this “project” and came up with a possible class action suit.  They investigated it further and decided to go forward with gathering possible members for the suit.  On a whim the principal partner called the insurance company’s legal department.  After a brief conversation as to where he was going with his legal actions, the insurance company agreed to replace all existing IT resources with the latest technology as well as reimburse the firm for any repairs after the  strike AND the days legal fees they spent researching.  The action by the law firm benefited the other tenants and the building owner.

Though there are probably several morals in this story, the most important one is, if there is a serious lightning strike to a building, try to get all equipment in that building replaced right away.

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