While residents and visitors to Franklin County in Northwest Florida enjoy the natural benefits of the state’s Gulf Coast, including oysters, beaches and fishing, the county’s sheriff’s department was dealing with one of the less attractive aspects of life in Florida: lightning.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, located in Eastpoint near Apalachicola Bay, had been struck by lightning on an ongoing basis since the facility was built 12 years ago. The lightning strikes caused serious and expensive electrical problems, and often knocked out communications systems.

“Nearly every time there was a big storm, our building was struck by lightning, knocking out communications, computers and other equipment,” said Major Ronald Crum of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. “After a lightning strike, we couldn’t even communicate with our officers. We had to find a solution.”

Crum said that the sheriff’s office attempted to solve the problem using outside engineers, but the cost was prohibitive. That was when the major heard about the free assistance available from the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) and he quickly submitted a Request for Technical Assistance (RTA).

SATOP referred the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office RTA to Carlos Mata, Ph.D., who worked for Dynacs, Inc. and is now employed by SATOP Alliance Partner ASRC Corporation at the Kennedy Space Center. Dr. Mata is an acknowledged specialist in the field of lightning protection.

After visiting the sheriff’s office facilities and reviewing the existing structures, Dr. Mata made several suggestions for improving the current communications system, including the installation of air termination devices for the communication tower and surge suppressor devices to be located in several areas. In addition, questions concerning safety, grounding and future installations were addressed.

“We educated their technicians and informed them of good and bad practices on indoor and outdoor installations,” said Dr. Mata. “We expect summer thunderstorms to play a less damaging role in the years to come after the implementation of the recommended modifications.”

Crum said SATOP’s assistance will help the sheriff’s office avoid the expense of repairing or replacing equipment damaged by lightning, improve the department’s work environment, and keep vital communications systems up and running.

“SATOP provided us access to exceptional expertise and in-depth knowledge about our lightning problem,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the future and expect lightning damage to be a thing of the past.”