Federal Real Property:

Lightning Protection Systems for Federal Buildings

GAO-05-682R: Published: May 19, 2005. Publicly Released: May 19, 2005.

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Mark L. Goldstein
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A Congressional letter, dated June 30, 2004, to the Comptroller General expressed concern that the federal government may not have a uniform approach to protecting its facilities from lightning strikes. As a result, Congress requested a GAO study on issues related to whether the federal government should adopt a uniform standard for lightning protection systems. We selected four agencies for this study--the General Services Administration (GSA), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and the Department of Defense (DOD). These agencies hold over 80 percent (in terms of square footage) of the government's owned and leased property. The objectives of this study were to determine (1) to what extent these selected federal agencies use applicable lightning protection standard(s) to help protect buildings they own from lightning strikes; (2) how these selected federal agencies assess the need for lightning protection systems on their buildings; (3) what practices and lightning protection standard(s) the General Services Administration uses when leasing privately owned buildings; and (4) what data exist related to the financial impact of lightning protection and damage to the federal government, such as the number of buildings with lightning protection systems, the costs associated with installing lightning protection systems, and the costs to repair buildings struck by lightning.

In summary, the four agencies in our review account for the vast majority of the government's owned and leased property and have adopted National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)-780, the national standard for installing lightning protection systems. These agencies also follow or plan to follow NFPA-780's risk assessment and decision-making methodology for determining when lightning protection systems should be installed. Although none of the agencies collect data on lightning-related damages, federal agency officials we interviewed from geographical areas where lightning incidents were relatively frequent did not consider lightning a significant concern, partly because they believed adequate measures had already been taken to protect their buildings.

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