Lightning and Grounding
Well it is that time of the year when postings turn to grounding and lighting protection.

So much information has been posted on lightning protection in this fourm you could spend hours going through all the information listed and I would recommend doing so. Use the search engine in eHam and by all means forget the naysayers of grounding. Go to the PolyPhaser site and read their tutorials on lightning protection. Go to Lyncole, Hagar and ICE (Industrial Communications Engineers) and read their tutorials on grounding. There is no short cut to lighting protection. Your whole station and home needs to be addressed as a complete solution. Now if you live in the Northwest you can skip the rest of this article for your chances are very slim you would even see a thunderstorm. For the rest of the county this is an aspect of the hobby we have to deal with. This article is a reader's digest version of what must be done for surge protection and I hope it start you thinking about your home and station.

Every other year on average my station gets hit by lightning. This was not a problem when I lived in LA; I had a greater chance of being hit by stray bullets. I live in a very high lightning prone area called the Palmer divide in Colorado. June through August we have thunder storms every day with up to 40,000 strikes a day on average during those months. I am on my 3rd GP-9 antenna at the top of the tower. When a storm has gone by and I find what's left of a GP-9 in toasted shards all over the ranch, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know what happened. I have lost no base station equipment to a lightning strikes but I have spent considerable time putting in proper grounding and surge protection on my station. As for the tower top fiberglass omni sticks, they're sacrificial and that just the cost of doing business where I live.

Proper grounding and surge protection works and works very well. The key is setting up low resistance grounding and the proper installation of grounding material. Disconnecting you equipment and putting it into a Faraday Shield box will work well but if you live in an area like my QTH you would be off the air for 3-4 months every year. Some hams like my self have more than one radio and going this route would mean my hobby is station assembly. I can't speak for most hams but after doing that a few times it looses its novelty.

The cell phone industry looses less then 20 sites a year to lightning. There are approximately 500,000 sites between Verizon, Nextel, Cingular, Sprint and others. Generally it is because the DSL line is struck and not the radio equipment. In the cell phone industry we ground at the top of the tower, base of the tower and where the cable goes into the facility. The facility has a ground halo inside and the all equipment is grounded to NEC code. Surge protectors are connected for all incoming and outgoing lines at the ground demarcation point. Site ground resistance is generally below 3 ohms. Four 20 foot deep ground rods is a grounding minimum. The AC entry panel has surge protectors (95% of all lightning damage comes in through the AC panel) and most importantly all the facility grounding is bonded together.

Power lines take by far the greatest hits and the pole flash-over-rods pass any surges below 10,000 volts. That still leaves a lot voltage coming down the power line. The primary and secondary portion of the pole transformer can arc over and your home is next in line. Your home AC panel should have a surge protectors connected to the panel. You worry about your ham equipment but what about your expensive entertainment and appliances not to mention the possibility of fire. You can protect your home and panel for under $100. Intermatic makes the Panel Gard model number IG1240RC surge protector for $60 not including the two additional circuit breakers. This unit has LED's to indicate the units status and wither you have taken a power surge. Installation is just three wires into the panel.

Did I mention lightning rods for the roof? Lightning is fickle and might miss your gorgeous tower and strike through the roof to the electrical wiring in the ceiling. The ground return in your home wiring connects to the master ground in your AC panel. Remember a lighting discharge is looking for the lowest impedance path to ground, i.e. earth. If your live in a highly lightning prone areas like Colorado, Florida and much of the mid west, lighting rods are a good investment. National Lightning Protection in Denver makes all the necessary material to install your lightning rod system. Their web site is a wealth of information.

In my own station, all grounding is bonded with a number “0” solid copper bonding wire. My ground resistance is less than 3 ohms. I have several deep (20ft. by 2 inch) ground rods for the tower, AC panel and shack location. I also have a surface ground field of 21 8ft. ground rods spaced 16 feet apart, spread out in radials from the tower. At the base of the tower is a lightning/surge protection panel for the coax, rotor cables and stepper motors on the beam. For the surge protection box I use 2 inch wide copper strap. Copper strap has much lower impedance than copper wire and much of lightning's energy is in the RF spectrum.

Coaxes are grounded at the top of the tower as well as the base. The AC panel has a commercial lightning protection panel to take care of incoming AC surges. The whole station is run on a pair of 3000 watt APC UPS systems to isolate the AC main from the equipment for minor surges. At the station, coaxes are terminated at a pair of grounded Alpha Delta coax switches and during storms the coax switches are in the grounded COM position. All equipment is grounded to a master ground buss bar on the back of the operating station. The master AC feed to the station has a commercial disconnect in the shack. I know many of you will this is excessive but proof is in the pudding. I have suffered no equipment losses due to lightning strikes.

Remember if the cell phone, radio, public service and computer industry disconnected equipment for every summer storm, you would not have communications coverage or internet service for five months every year. The communication industry is connected 24/7. As a result, proper lightning/surge protection with good grounding works. Is it 100 % full proof…NO, but it is infinitely more effective than sticking you head in the sand with denial. You don't plan on getting into an accident but you have car insurance. Lightning surge protection is an insurance policy and another tool in your station/home safety plan.

Many hams have their station and personal electronics insured but collecting and replacing equipment is tedious and would it not be easier to prevent the damage in the first place. Due the proper diligence and you'll sleep better at night.