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LIGHTNING SAFETY ADVOCATES PROMOTE AWARENESS

Frank and Julie Inversso, along with activists, politicians and weather specialists, want to change minds about lightning safety.

The Inverssos, whose 21-year-old son, Justin, was killed by lightning in September as he worked as a lifeguard at Adventure Island, were part of a lightning awareness event Thursday at the Tampa Firefighter's Museum.

"Telling people, 'If you don't do this, you're going to die,' has not proven to be an affective 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 calling Tampa the nation's "lightning capital" , speakers shared facts and figures.

In addition to being one of the greatest storm-related killers in the United States, lightning is also the greatest threat to those outdoors during a storm.

And it's a particular threat for men, who account for 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," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "It's that simple."

Jennifer Morgan, of the Lightning Safety Alliance, is among those working to educate theme and water parks about lightning protection systems.

Part of the problem, she said, is that many parks have systems that don't meet national standards, needlessly putting lives at risk, she said.

"My biggest concern is that the same technology is in place at Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and Aquatic, 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 were happy to hear that the parks are changing to better protect 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 cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813)225-3111.

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