National Lightning Safety Council

Dr Mary Ann Cooper

The National Lightning Safety Council is spotlighting Council members and their efforts to promote lightning safety education and awareness. Mary Ann Cooper is an international expert on lightning injuries and lightning injury prevention.

Q. What is your background or education?

I am a physician trained in the specialty of emergency medicine (EM). My special area of interest started in electrical injuries and has narrowed to lightning injuries in particular. People with lightning and electrical injuries have been teaching me about their injuries for over forty years.

Q. How did you get interested in lightning safety?

Since there is so little we can do to avert the cascade of injury and after-effects that occur with lightning injuries, one has to conclude that it makes more sense to prevent the injury than to care for the patient/survivor/family afterwards. Doing lightning safety, or as I prefer to call it ‘lightning injury prevention,’ is how we do that. Over the years, I have been fortunate to meet many who feel the same way and believe that they can change the world by putting in the time, energy, and expertise. The National Lightning Safety Council is made up of this kind of people.

Q. How did you get involved with the National Lightning Safety Council?

I was invited to be one of the core, founding members of the Lightning Safety Week group under NOAA in 2001 led by John Jensenius. John and many of the LSW core members have become the NLSC after NOAA disbanded the group.

Q. What do you see in the future regarding the study of lightning? What do you think is moving the cause of lightning safety and lightning safety awareness forward?

What I and many others who work trying to save lives in the developing world want is low cost, effective lightning protection (LP) for the masses – the people farming, herding, walking to market, studying in their (unprotected) classrooms, sleeping in their homes, etc. Here in the developed world, almost all of us are within steps of ‘lightning safe’ structures or metal vehicles 99+% of the time. People in Bangladesh, most of Africa, and substantial parts of South America are at risk 24/7/365 regardless of their activity because they have no ‘lightning safe’ places to go. Without lightning safe structures, THERE IS NO LIGHTNING SAFETY.

Lightning protection (LP) is expensive. We are finding that it costs approximately $4000 per building to retrofit the many small buildings that make up the typical Ugandan school – far too expensive for local districts to afford and expensive even for our donors to consider. Building LP into the construction would be better but also expensive and requires the government’s buy-in, which is another story altogether!

Q. Can you tell us about a specific project you are working on or are passionate about in the study of lightning or the lightning safety awareness movement?

Ron Holle’s outstanding research has shown us that school children in unprotected classrooms are the group most at risk of lightning injury in Africa so we have concentrated on lightning protection of schools. The African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics Network ( has recruited world-class lightning protection designers to help us with design and installation of LP systems in schools across Uganda, but even with our generous donors, we can protect only a few. The government has little incentive to act. Many LP purveyors in Africa have little real LP knowledge and some make claims that a single ‘lightning arrestor’ will protect a building, school or even an entire village.

Schools are also ideal because they serve as community centers and are the most substantial buildings in most villages. As we teach about lightning science and behaviors that people can do to avoid lighting injury, we will also be helping people understand that lightning is not an unavoidable supernatural force, that it is not called down by witches, and that a school is not cursed or the Head Teacher either a devil, sinner or witch. By debunking these supernatural magical causes , we can give people the power to decrease their chances of lightning injury and death.

Q. Do you have any other comments or words of wisdom for readers?

Just as we have brought down the injury rates in the U.S., we can start decreasing the injury rates in tropical developing countries, step by step, school by school, village by village until we have an avalanche of successes. ACLENet appreciates all the donations , encouragement , and volunteer help we can get to make this possible. ###