OBGC installs storm detection system
Officials say it will help keep athletes and their families safe
Springtime means lacrosse, soccer and baseball games and frequent thunderstorms. The Olney Boys and Girls Community Sports Association is taking a step to protect athletes and their families when bad weather approaches by installing a lightning detection system.
The organization recently raised $10,000 to purchase the system for its OBGC Community Park at 4501 Olney-Laytonsville Road in Olney, where hundreds of children and spectators can be playing and watching games at a time.
The system is similar to those used by area golf courses and will trigger a 15-second alarm when lightning is detected nearby, OBGC officials said. It is programmed to activate only during park hours of operation.
"The safety of our children and families has always been our primary concern," OBGC Chairman Dan Dionisio said. "This system will go a long way in helping to enforce our existing policies of clearing all fields at the first sign of thunder or lightning."
OBGC launched the fundraising campaign in January. Although dozens of families contributed, it was a major donation from Mark and Pam Hjelle that enabled the organization to purchase and install the system.
"Some of our best family memories have come on the fields at OBGC where our girls have had enjoyed playing softball for the past three seasons," Mark Hjelle said. "We really were looking for some way to make a contribution that would benefit all the kids and families that use these great fields. When we saw the opportunity to help with an important safety item like the lightning detection system, we knew it was a great thing and we should do it."
The Thor detection system, which is approximately 3 feet tall and mounted on the concession stand's roof, is a sophisticated lightning locator system designed to alert users of the risk of lightning strikes in the area, OBGC officials said.
It will also provide information on when games should be postponed or cancelled due to storms.
"This system will be an additional input for decision makers at the park and will remove the subjectivity that can sometimes be associated with suspending games due to poor weather," Dionisio said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that lightning kills 58 people each year in the nation.
"In Maryland, there have been have been 11 fatalities and 73 injuries due to lightning since 1993," NOAA spokesman Christopher Strong said.
Strong said NOAA has no statistics on lightning detection systems, but warns that if a storm is close enough for people to hear the thunder, the people are close enough to be struck.
"The fringe' lightning near the perimeter of the storm (and often before the rain begins) is particularly dangerous," he wrote in an e-mail to The Gazette. "This is because people still think they can get a little bit of outdoor activity in before the storm arrives. Sadly, that results in many injuries and fatalities."
Strong said NOAA's "rule of thumb" for whether to cease outdoor activity is, "When thunder roars, move indoors."
Each year, more than 150,000 people visit OBGC Community Park for games, tournaments and events, OBGC reports.