TAMPA — Lightning strikes are more than the tragedies that happen to other people, the oddities that deserve concern but not active safety measures. Frank and Julie Inversso, along with activists, politicians and weather specialists, want to debunk the sentiment of apathy surrounding lightning safety.
The Inverssos, whose 21-year-old son, Justin, died last September after he was struck by lightning as he worked as a lifeguard at Adventure Island, attended a lightning awareness event Thursday at the Tampa Firefighters Museum.
There, Mayor Bob Buckhorn read from a proclamation declaring next week Lightning Safety Awareness Week. Lightning safety advocates from the Lightning Protection Institute, the Lightning Safety Alliance, the National Weather Service and other partner organizations joined the mayor and Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Thomas Forward to share educational resources and safety tips.
"Telling people, 'If you don't do this, you're going to die,' has not proven to be an effective tool," said Bruce McCullen of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes. "People don't think it's going to happen to them. They're apathetic. It's always somebody else."
Often citing that Tampa is the lightning capital of the country, speakers shared statistics regarding the danger of lightning.
In addition to being one of the greatest storm-related killers in the United States, lightning also is the greatest threat to those outdoors during a storm.
And a particularly fatal threat for men, who make up 80 percent of lightning-related deaths.
"A majority of injuries and deaths from lightning strikes could be prevented — and that's important, could be prevented — if people follow the simple rule: When thunder roars, go indoors," Buckhorn said. "It's that simple."
In addition to general awareness, activists such as Jennifer Morgan with the Lightning Safety Alliance are working to educate theme and water parks about proper lightning protection systems.
Part of the problem, she said, is that many parks have systems in place that don't meet national standards, which means they are needlessly putting lives at risk, she said.
"My biggest concern is that the same technology is in place at Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and Aquatica, the water park at SeaWorld," Morgan said. "There is room for improvement, in terms of planning, education and structural protection measures that could be put in place at those parks."
The Inverssos said they are happy to hear that the parks are undergoing structural changes to better protect their patrons and workers.
"It's good that parks are updating their equipment to save lives, and that all the parks are getting on board," Frank Inversso said. "It's better to be prepared than shed a tear."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 225-3111.