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08/28/12 When Lightening strikes…….A few thoughts to keep your electronics up and running

Lightening over Pinnacle Mountain

Lightening over Pinnacle Mountain, in western Pulaski County

Just a few words to those out there who have a photo business that is totally dependent on Mac’s or PC’s, in regards to the extreme damage that is possible if lightening happens to strike nearby and you are not prepared.

One of the worst things that can happen is to be struck by lightening, and I would have to say the 2nd worst thing would be to have you house struck.  I understand the rules about lightening and most time will give it a wide berth.  An example, when I shot this, I was inside my car with my camera on a tripod outside being trigger by a remote release.  Lightening around electronics always spells disaster always.  I know this, yet I still got burned about 3 weeks ago.  I live on a ridge top and thus am a bit more susceptible  to a direct hit.  I have lived in this house now for over 12 years and in that time, I have never had a direct hit to the house but I have had several close ones.  My rules are that whenever a strong storm is approaching everything of value has to be unplugged from the wall.  What you say, just go get a power stip with surge protection, or a UPS either of these will save you.  Well, I have news, that is far from the truth.  Here are a few things I learned.

This last storm cost me over 3.5K, (the cost of a new Nikon D800 or Epson 4900) I lost 2 printers, 1 LCD, 1 set of very rare Klipsch 5.1 speakers, 1 router, 1 DLS modem, 1 full PC, 1/2 of a 2nd PC, 1 creative sound card (very rare and one that worked great), and the logic cards on my main AC unit to the studio.

  1. Lightening can cause as much damage to your expensive electronics from a near miss as a direct hit.  The charge will run through the ground and find something.  In this case the hit was over 30 yards away, but still came into my lower floor of my house and then took out everything along one wall, terminating at the Air Conditioning unit.  No fuses were blown it just went straight to the source.
  2. Both of the PC’s that were damage, were not plugged in but they were connected via USB cords to the printers that were fried.  The printers were powered on.  From what I can tell, the charge came down the power cords into the printers and then went down the USB cord and fried both of my PCs.
  3. Sound cards can be damaged by indirect strike.  In this case, the Klipsch speakers were plugged in  (my mistake) and thus the power controller on the main speaker took a hit, and then it went from there down the controller cords and terminated in the sound card output, burning one side of the card out.
  4. You can have indirect damage to your router that will cause the internet to get flaky.  In my case the connection started to drop in and out, but I had not unplugged the router.  I finally after 3 hours of trying ended up unplugging the router, and when it was plugged back in, al the lights and diagnostics worked, but no ethernet and that what it’s all about.
  5. Just because the charge came in your PC’s USB ports, it still doesn’t mean that your hard drives will be corrupted.  In my case I lost (4) 1 TB drives to data corruption.  Something I didn’t eve realize until about 1 week later.  What you actually see is that a file will open OK, but when you go to save it the data is corrupted since the drive no longer has all the internal bit structure complete anymore.  I didn’t lose any data on internal raid arrays which surprised me, but I will assume in this case that the raid card/and PCI-E card slot added some buffer.

What does all this mean, well I guess what I wanted to make people understand that unless you have the equipment totally removed from the outside world, then you run the risk of having something damage your unit.  In my case, I had both of my Epson large format printers totally unplugged and the USB cords were removed.  However I didn’t follow my own advice on 2 of my 4 PC’s and I paid for it dearly.  One of the printers that was lost was was a fairly new Brother laser.  The printer itself ran fine after the strike, but no Windows or Mac machine could establish communications with it over the USB port, so the USB ports were the main cause of the problem.

A few things to remember:

  1. No USB or surge protector will help if you get a strike like the one I got.  It will blow right past these units.
  2. All of my equipment is on a level 3 UPS.  I actually have several installed.  But unless you have a large industrial setup the UPS”s that you can purchase for your home will not give you 100% protections.  Even one’s costing hundred’s of dollars.
  3. Lightening effects various electronics differently.  In my case I saw some immediate damage in that units were no longer able to function, but in other cases, I ended up having data corruption or intermittent failures.
  4. For a high end PC, unplug the power cords and and USB cords that attached to powered up devices that you don’t want to power off.

There was no way I could have stopped the damage to my AC unit.  There was a circuit breaker but it didn’t stop anything.  If the unit had been off I might not have taken that amount of damage so next time I will make sure to shut off the AC units at the thermostat on the wall as that my offer some help. Next time I should be even more prepared.