Protecting computers against lightning strikes

how to protect computers against lightning strikes
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    Winter is here bringing with it plenty of festive cheer. But as we all dream of a white Christmas and frosty walks, we should be prepared for the possibility of flash floods and electrical storms that are a common occurrence at this time of year.

    The UK experiences between 200,000-300,000 lightning counts each year, and on an exceptionally thundery day more than 50,000 can occur. When storms strike, they can cause serious damage to our computers and equipment, causing electrical surges and system failures.

    So make sure your computer is fully protected from lightning strikes this this winter, by following our simple advice.

    Computer damage and problems caused by direct lightning strikes

    We have all seen the movies where a bolt of lightning drives down from the sky and directly strikes an object or person. Whilst this type of lightning danger does exist, a direct strike only actually accounts for 3-5% of all lightning related injuries.

    If you are unlucky enough to experience a direct lightning strike to your property, then it is likely that it will leave you with significant damage to your electrical and non-electrical devices.

    Direct strikes can cause notable structural damage, resulting in fires within walls or attic wiring. Typically, electronics that are plugged into an electrical system and impacted by a direct lightning strike cannot be protected by a surge protector for several reasons: –

    • Lightning can create an electrical surge or spike, causing damage to devices by generating over-voltage and power surges that your computer can not withstand. These surges are short-lived, momentary bursts of energy that drive tremendous amounts of current into an electrical circuit for a few millionths or a few thousandths of a second.
    • Semiconductors are extremely common in electronics and a lightning-induced surge will almost always exceed the voltage rating of these devices. This causes them to fail or alter the electrical characteristics so that they no longer function effectively.
    • The damage associated with over-voltage exposure is increasing, as electronic technology advances and components are becoming smaller. As the size is reduced, so is the microscopic spacing of insulators and circuits within the components which makes them more susceptible to over-voltage damage.
    • Many other devices (such as diodes, transistors, etc.) contain extremely fine internal wires that connect the silicon components to the heavier exterior wires. A large surge of electric current can vaporize these thin wires the same way a fuse is blown.

    Computer problems or damage caused by lightning strikes? Need general computer repairs? Contact Lee Harvey Computing!

    Damage caused by indirect lightning strikes

    An indirect lightning strike can happen in two different ways:

    • Through ground current. This occurs when lightning strikes an object or terra firma and the electricity travels through the ground until it reaches another object.
    • Through a side flash. This happens when lightning strikes an object that seeks a path that lets it jump through the air to another object.

    So as you can see it is relatively easy for energy from an indirect lightning strike to enter our homes through service wires like internet or cable TV lines, earth-ground wires or even pipes that extend outside the home.

    Damage from this type of event is generally less severe than that of a direct strike. However, when electronics are not properly connected to a point-of-use surge protector, serious damage can occur.

    How to protect electronics from lightning strikes

    Large appliances that utilise electronic controls are much more sensitive to surge damage from a lightning strike. Electronics that are properly connected to a quality surge protector can be safeguarded from voltage fluctuations.

    Although surge protectors can assist against lightning, there have been occasions where it was not enough to combat against a particularly powerful strike. Therefore, the basic rule is, if you know that there is going to be a lightning strike or you hear one coming, then:

    • Completely turn off and remove your computer plugs from the wall
    • If you have time remove all electrical items from the mains (printers, broadband, phone lines etc)
    • Make sure that you have backed up all your files and that they are filed somewhere in the ether

    How Lee Harvey Computing can help

    The most challenging part when evaluating electronics impacted by lightning is that it can be extremely difficult to identify where all the damage has occurred. As energy from a lightning strike can jump around or through components such as fuses, diodes, they can wreak havoc on almost any part within the chassis of the device.

    If you have a computer that has been damaged by lightning, then we can perform an electronic restoration validation to determine the cause of the outage and the best solution for your impaired items.

    This involves us carrying out a full device assessment, visual evaluation, functional tests, photo documentation, analysis, and the creation of a final report of our findings. In some cases we can even save you large amounts of money on the cost of a full replacement.

    At Lee Harvey Computing, we have decades of experience, so when it comes to providing an affordable computer repair service, we are the best in the business.

    Working with both PC and laptops, we can fix, build, install, and maintain computer systems on your behalf.

    Based in Cornwall we appreciate that we have our own mini-climate and can offer quick and affordable fixed price repairs, 24/7, whatever the weather.

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    Lee Harvey

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