Lightning warning system company encourages people to take shelter when sirens blare

Published: July 28, 2021 5:21 PM EDT
Updated: July 28, 2021 9:27 PM EDT

Five people hospitalized in the last two weeks are recovering from lightning strikes in Southwest Florida.

Wednesday, the detection system went off, warning people of lightning from a nearby storm. We were near Lowdermilk Beach in Naples when we heard the system working.

That’s the problem: Locals who go to the beach daily told us these lightning prediction horns are loud and impossible to miss.

But there are always people who ignore them. That’s frustrating for a man who is in the business of protecting people from dangerous lightning strikes.

“In a typical strike, we’re going to give 15-20 minutes warning,” said Bob Dugan, the CEO of Thor Guard.

That should be plenty of time for people to pack up and get to shelter, but Dugan said that doesn’t always happen.

“It is frustrating, but you know, I’ve been doing this for 31 years. I’ve seen everything,” Dugan said. “Sad thing is, up until June 12, this was the first year in recorded history that no one had been hit and killed by lightning in the United States. Then all of a sudden in our backyard, we get three. Now, they didn’t die, but it’s pretty tragic.”

During the past three weeks, people were hit by lightning on Sanibel, Marco Island and at Clam Pass Park. All victims survived.

Dugan’s systems are located throughout Southwest Florida beaches to prevent these tragedies.

There are 11 on Marco Island and five in the City of Naples, including one at Lowdermilk Beach, where Trish Ocker spends five to six hours a day. She’s always looking out for dark clouds but says she doesn’t always seek shelter when she hears the warning system.

“I go by my radar more so than the sound because 10 miles is pretty far and can pass very quickly so,” Ocker said.

Phyllis Casoria started to get off the beach when she saw stormy weather begin to appear.

“And you realize it’s a real threat. You have to do what you have to do. When you know it’s imminent, you leave,” Casoria said. “A lot of people don’t want to do that, but it’s a bad choice to make.”

Dugan hopes people start to make better choices but knows it’s out of his control.

“There’s not much you can do about it,” Dugan said. “They’re taking their chances.”

Dugan told us his company is constantly maintaining its systems to make sure they work properly.

Collier County Public Schools plans to upgrade its lightning prediction systems before the start of the school year.