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Attention: – YMCA members and management

COMING SOON HERE: Complaint and Petition by YMCA Members


SARASOTA, FLORIDA -- Literally thousands of YMCA members across the USA are stopped from using their facility’s indoor swimming pool until 20-30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder has died away in the distance or since lightning was last spotted anywhere on the horizon. Is this YMCA policy sensible or is it unnecessarily inconveniencing thousands of persons, many of whom schedule their exercise but are reasonable enough to appreciate a policy important for their safety?

Lightning strikes almost anywhere. It prefers tall solitary trees. That is why standing under a tree during an afternoon thunderstorm on a golf course, for example, can be fatal. Lightning has been known to come into homes via the telephone line or the pipes in the plumbing. Deaths have occurred to persons on the phone or in the bathtub when lightning struck nearby. It can come out of a clear sky and strike persons lying on the beach. It strikes persons in the shower, in parking lots, and in boats and automobiles. When lightning is around, no place seems totally safe.

According to John Jensenius of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, over the past 30 years lightning has killed more people in the U.S. than tornados or hurricanes.


Safety “experts” speculate that a bolt of lightning hitting a nearby utility pole COULD travel via the electrical circuits to the pool’s pump and throughout the water. In such a scenario persons swimming in the indoor pool as well as persons within a damp pool enclosure COULD be electrocuted. Speculation without documentary evidence, such as the scenario of electrocution by lightning in indoor swimming pools provides the necessary plausability framework of what is called an urban legend.

You can search databases of indoor pool deaths and those of deaths by lightning compiled ever since such statistics have been recorded and fail to find even a single death resulting from this scenario. However, it COULD happen, they warn – booga booga! Don’t think for a minute that risk assessment in this situation is based on mortality experience. It is purely hypothetical and totally speculative.

Electrical engineers, physicists, and other scientifically educated persons who have considered the possibility of swimming-pool mass electrocutions do not blindly agree on that scenario. One YMCA Aquatic Professional observes, “Even the YMCA of the USA has made recommendations that indoor pools close, but no one is asking for proof!” One young scientist observed,“What are the chances that a strike will transfer to water? Sure you can have a pool/facility tested for bonding/grounding, but what if they are not grounded? Remember, the electricity would have to travel from the strike, down the structure and then jump from the structure (water line, electrical line, etc.) to a CLOSED LOOP re-circulation system (most are PVC, and are located below ground) to even enter the pool water. A person showering indoors stands a better chance of getting electrocuted!”

There are numerous statistics pertaining to lightning, its damages, its deaths and injuries, strike locations, etc. We have mentioned some of the documented dangers of lightning. Lightning can strike anywhere. Surely, given the "fact" that indoor swimming pools pose such a risk, some foolish persons have paid the ultimate price in indoor pools during inclement weather when lightning struck. Have they? We cannot definitely claim the answer to be “no’ anymore than we can say that little green aliens do not exist in our solar system. We have yet to find them.

Indoor swimming pools are one place where lightning does not take its toll, making them, statistically, one of the safest places to be during an electrical storm. We know that lightning strikes as far as ten miles from the center of a thunderstorm. Doesn’t it just make good sense to get people out of the pool and keep them out until the storm is many miles distant? When one is armed with facts, the answer is clearly “No”. Let’s not pretend that this constitutes reasonable risk management. Has anyone demanded proof of risk?

The inconvenient fact is that there has not been even one death recorded as a result of swimming indoors during a lightning storm. "We could find no reports of deaths or injuries in indoor pools related to lightning causes," says Richard Kithil of the National Lightning Safety Institute and Kevin Johnston, a senior consultant. Yet, this same Richard Kithil goes on to recommend evacuating an indoor pool and pool area should lightning or thunder occur within 6-8 miles and waiting 30 minutes from last observations of either thunder or lightning before permitting persons back into the pool area. He points out that just because we haven't found statistical evidence of indoor pool deaths doesn't prove that such tragedies have not occurrred - booga booga! Mr. Kithil is a professional safety consultant (to the YMCA?). What is going on here? Is this CYA?

Remember, lightning has killed more people over the past 30 years than tornados and hurricanes. Among scores of lightning victims, given the popularity of indoor swimming, surely there has been at least one careless swimmer killed or injured by lightning while nonchalantly doing his laps or soaking in an indoor swimming pool when lightning struck. We have not found even a single death (or injury) by lightning in an indoor swimming pool since such record keeping began! How dangererous a place is an indoor swimming pool really?

“Safety experts” and “aquatic consultants” agree that one cannot be too careful and humans must “Stay out of the water!" When they are questioned in this matter, the story of two boys killed by lightning in 2000 at an OUTDOOR swimming pool in Florida sometimes arises. The tragedy did not occur because lightning struck nearby and the pool water was electrified. The boys were sitting on the edge of a swimming pool and dangling their legs in the pool when they were struck directly. Remember that ligntning strikes anywhere. If the boys had been struck while at an outdoor miniature golf area I suppose the experts would recommend evacuating indoor miniature golf areas during thunderstorms. What is going on here? Does this remind you of Chicken Little?

We found a single documented case of lightning striking an indoor swimming pool in which twenty persons were swimming. The lightning did not strike nearby and need to follow a circuitous route to the pool water. A bolt of lightning came through an open window and was seen to strike the surface of the pool itself on Tuesday, July 18, 2000. CBS News reported the event the following day in Beaupré Quebec, Canada. None of the twenty persons in the pool at the time of the lightning strike were killed or seriously injured in this shocking incident. It is not surprising that lightning, which strikes almost anywhere, would at some time randomly strike an indoor pool. If you happen to die in an indoor pool you will become immortalized as the first person on record to depart this earth as a result of being in an indoor swimming pool when lightning struck. Don't let this happen to you - booga booga!

Logic and facts seldom prevail, especially when “Everybody out of the water!” has such a commanding, authoritative, and care-giving ring to it. Once out of the water, where will you go next? Above all, do not head for the showers! The numbers are infinitely worse there than in the pool. And forget about leaving the building, walking across a parking lot, or driving home. You should have remained inside, in the safety of the indoor pool.

Don’t bother trying to persuade the lifeguard. He will probably give you all sorts of warnings about being in the water when lightning is spotted or thunder is heard (even miles away!). Isn’t it nice to have someone who cares? The guard might tell you, more accurately, “It’s just YMCA policy and I risk being fired if I don't evacuate the pool.” Personally, I would rather have my swim. Wouldn’t you?

Please pass this along to your fellow YMCA members and management. Post where it will be read. Anyone who questions the contents of this message is encouraged to do his own homework on Google.

UPDATE: - Suggestions for YMCA Swimmers

Mr. Kithil's 'National Lightning Safety Institute' report reads as follows:

  • Take action to suspend activities. When lightning is within 6-8 miles, evacuate people to safe areas.
  • Guards should secure the entrance to the pool deck.
  • Determine when activities should be resumed. Wait 30 minutes after the last observed lightning or thunder, since lightning may visit from the back end of the passing thunderstorm.
Lightning and Aquatics Safety: A Cautionary Perspective for Indoor Pools
by Richard Kithil (President & CEO, NLSI) & Kevin Johnston (Senior Consultant, Professional Aquatics Consultants International) JUNE 25, 2008

Added June 25, 2013:
The urban legend now sweeping the country originates from the advice given by a Mr. Richard Kithil. Kithil is a self-educated, self-appointed "expert" on lightning. His education appears to consist of an undergraduate major in economics and an MBA from Thunderbird, a business school with locations throughout the world. It is appropriate to inquire of his scientific background that might contribute to qualifications for the position he has carved out for himself as a "lightning consultant" and precisely what his relationship is with commercial insurance corporations. I expect that you will hear about "risk assessment" from insurance carriers.

With respect to the former, there seems no evidence of Kithil having taken even a basic college physics course. He appears to have no background whatsoever in electricity or electrical engineering. His National Lightning Safety Institute does not list employees or consultants who have scientific or electrical engineering educations. He appears to be the expert in all such matters.

With regard to the latter, insurance companies and their actuaries are concerned about corporate profits. Auto companies, for example, would love to have their insured customers not drive their cars at all. Health insurance companies would be delighted to have insured customers remain at home, exercise in a sterile environment, and not participate in any activities that might result in personal injury. In short, insurance companies are profit driven. Human nature and human pleasure have no place in their balance sheets and, in fact, can be fiscally detrimental to their own mission. There is no mystery as to why Kithil is touted by them.

Advice given by Kithil in papers pertaining to lightning and indoor swimming pools needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

As long as lifeguards along with other uninformed people believe the urban legend that lightning poses a risk to persons swimming indoors, lifeguards will continue to increase risks to YMCA members by removing them from an inside pool, causing many of them to leave the building's safety at the approach of an electrical storm. YMCA management will continue to support them, claiming absurdly that "it is better to err on the side of caution"!

The director of my own local YMCA, following my complaints of the pool being repeatedly closed at the mere sound of distant thunder informed me that they have a 20-count "flash-bang" policy in force. He went on to say that he refuses to personally overview the decision each time the pool is closed and that he supports his aquatics manager and lifeguards in "erring on the side of caution". Our lifeguards remain free to design their own "thunder and lightning work breaks", disrupting members' schedules, based upon this urban legend.

Clearly, any policy that exposes YMCA members to lightning risk, especially when an electical storm has approached within a few miles, should not be enforced at all. However, should the YMCA persist in this policy, lifeguards need to be trained in the "flash to bang" rule which calculates the distance between them and a lightning strike. For each five seconds counted between seeing a lightning flash and hearing thunder, there is one mile (or approximately 1.5 kilometers) between the person counting and that lightning strike. Based on the above, a 20-30 second count after seeing lightning and hearing the thunder places the storm roughly 4-6 miles distant.

To send members outside into an electical storm is irresponsible. Such a policy, however, may be thought to lessen the possibility of litigation and liability for the YMCA should a member be struck by lightning outside the building. Now that the facts have been presented, exactly the opposite is more likely to be true.

UPDATE: July 17, 2011 - The Redwoods group, insurance carrier for the YMCA actually states on its website, There are no confirmed lightning-caused deaths of individuals in indoor pools . . .. As usual, the sentence continues with a "but" and then rambles on about dangers of electricity, the possibilities of injury or death, other lightning related events, etc. This sort of non-direct narrative always provides the core of every urban legend. There is some degree of risk involved in all human activity. The key questions are: "How much risk is involved?" (degree of risk) and "How has the degree of risk been determined?"


See: When Lightning Strikes

July 17, 2011 - Arrested at Sarasota YMCA in frustration at inability to have swimming-pool policy enforced.

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