A $100,000 lightning detection system, using sensors, horns and strobe lights, will be installed this month at 10 of Highland Park's major recreational areas, and at Rosewood Beach and Moraine Park in 2015.
The Park District of Highland Park chose the Strike Guard system over national competitor Thor Guard, which is used in Deerfield and Lake Forest parks. Several area schools and private golf courses have installed their own systems.
The Strike Guard system will be installed at Deer Creek/Fink Park, West Ridge Park, Hidden Creek Aqua Park, Sunset Valley Golf Course, the Recreation Center of Highland Park, Olson Park, Heller Nature Center, Centennial Ice Arena/Danny Cunniff Park and Sunset Woods Park.
According to a city news release, Strike Guard will detect lightning strikes within a five-mile radius and sound an alarm that can be heard 2,400 feet away. The siren is followed by a flashing strobe. Park district staff will receive electronic warnings when an approaching storm system is within 10 miles of Highland Park.
"We are in the business of outdoor recreation," said park district Director Liza McElroy. "When you consider the parks, trails, tennis courts, pool, beaches, golf course, and other locations where people gather, this system has the potential to save lives."
Highland Park's system will be on from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., when the parks are open, to minimize disturbing neighbors with "false positives," said Calvin Bernstein, the chairman of the district's Finance Committee and a strong advocate of acquiring the system.
A park district baseball coach for 16 years, Bernstein said he's become increasingly concerned by the lack of urgency to take cover when bad weather is approaching. "Lighting does strike, and lightning kills, and it's something that avoidable," Bernstein said.
Bernstein drew a mental picture of baseball games he's attended, "in which you see lightning in the background, and the attitude was, 'let's finish the inning.' You have a child at home plate with a metal bat in his hand, and that bat is a lightning rod. The last out is not as important as clearing the field."
Bernstein said the 7 a.m. daily starting time for the system also protects park district employees out early, preparing parks for the day's visitors. Bernstein said Strike Guard has represented the system to the park district as "a new technology, which is supposed to limit positives, or false alarms, and it's cheaper to maintain and operate."
Lake Forest has the Thor Guard system in all city parks, including the lakefront and beach, 13 locations total, said Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Issel, also the city's manager.
Issel said police and fire commanders check radar to make sure approaching storms will affect the city before they activate the alarm from the city dispatch center, which can be followed by a voice message over loudspeakers to people on or near park property. Issel described the alarm sound as "a real loud, screeching horn which you can detect as different from anything else."
Deerfield Parks, including Deerfield Golf Course, had Thor Guard's system installed in 2002, as a community initiative. Base stations utilizing Thor Guard's detection technology are at Deerfield Golf Club and the village public works center.
Park District Director Rick Julison lauded the efforts by village athletic associations, civic clubs and the Deerfield Park Foundation to raise about $25,000 to purchase and install system components.
Julison said that with 13 horns at 13 different parks, the system does a good job of covering most of the geographic area of Deerfield. The warning alert is a 15-second blast, and an all-clear consists of three, 5-second blasts. The flashing strobe lights continue during the alert.
Julison said the 12-year-old system has been maintained by Thor Guard, with solar batteries for the horns checked and replaced and circuitry upgraded as technology has improved.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says lightning can occur at any time of the year, but lightning casualties are highest in summer, with the most strikes in July, and two-thirds of all casualties occurring between noon and 6 p.m. About one-third of lightning injuries occur indoors, says the CDC.
The CDS site says the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are around 1 in 500,000.
Regionally, southeastern states are the most at risk, with Florida considered the "lightning capital" of the country. CDC statistics are that the state has had more than 2,000 lightning injuries in the last 50 years.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun