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June 20, 2001

Mary Ann Cooper

Scott Gudes

Rocco Mediate

Mike Utley


SCOTT GUDES: I am Scott Gudes. I am the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. First of all, I want to thank the PGA TOUR and Buick for letting us use the media center to kick off the first Lightning Awareness Week here, nation's first. And when I got on the flight this morning from Washington D.C., i thought I'd bring my 9-wood with me, and I know Rocco is looking at me right now saying, "That's very strange because 9-wood is something that nobody on the PGA TOUR needs at all." Definitely, but it is a club that makes a real impact. In fact, it saves a lot of swings for some hackers like me. Actually, let us assimilate for a few seconds, one hole at least, that we actually can do that. I thought about the fact that this public service announcement, in a way, is sort of like that 9-wood because the PGA TOUR definitely understands lightning and the dangers of lightning, has partnership with the Weather Channel, where at every Tour stop it keeps the fans safe, the players safe. When you think about it, this PSA is going to make an impact. It is going to save lives no doubt about it. We lose some 73 Americans every year, we have deaths from lightning. We have over 300 Americans who have severe injuries, life threatening injuries, and injuries that stay with them for some period of time from lightning. In fact, we have some 25 million lightning-strikes per year. Lightning is a deadly killer. In fact, we lose more Americans every year to lightning than we do to tornadoes or hurricanes, if you think about that. So what we are doing today is, we are trying to get more public awareness. We are trying to get the American public to really be safe. This is not, as I said, this is not something that is different from the PGA TOUR. PGA professionals work outside everyday. The winner of last week, or this week's U.S. Open, Retief, was hit by lightning when he was an amateur. We are here today in Westchester at the Buick Classic, really to make a difference, try to get the word out working with the PGA TOUR. So first of all, let me just say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so if we could first, let's turn to the video. (Video played.)

Is that great or what? (APPLAUSE) We also have posters we are going to have up all around the country, at courses around the country, telling people to let the storm play through and to keep safe. So let me introduce Ana Leaird who is here with the PGA TOUR. She really runs things here at the PGA TOUR. I just can't say enough about the real partnership and help that the PGA TOUR has been to really help all Americans stay safe from lightning.

ANA LEAIRD: Thank you, Scott. On behalf of the PGA TOUR, we really want to the thank the folks at NOAA for providing us with this opportunity. It's funny how things happen. The phone call came in, I don't know who took it, but it wound up on my desk and it seemed likes a far shot that we would be able to make this happen, but through the help of a lot of folks at NOAA, a lot of people on our staff, and of course, we couldn't have made it possible without Rocco, I am really pleased that we could be here today. I think many of you, especially the media who cover PGA TOUR events, are well aware of how important safety is to the Tour. Our partnership with the Weather Channel which Scott referred to before, they are the official forecaster of the PGA TOUR; provides meteorologists at over 120 PGA TOUR, Senior PGA TOUR, and BUY.COM TOUR events every year. Lightning is something that we take as a very, very important risk to our players, to our fans, to the media, to the volunteers, to everybody who is on the golf course. So through the scoreboard program that we have on the PGA TOUR, and through the Weather Channel's efforts, immediately when there's lightning in the area the meteorologists advise our rules officials to take action as soon as it is warranted. Without the Weather Channel, and now through the efforts of NOAA, and Lightning Safety Awareness Week, we also hope that we can play an important part in helping the lives, save the lives of the American public. I'd like to thank Scott, Curtis, and Bob and all the staff at NOAA for including us in this. And for those of you who I know may wish to speak to Rocco about something other than lightning, he will be available for just a few minutes at the conclusion of this press conference. He will be happy to answer any questions regarding the PSA and perhaps some of his success last week, which we are all very, very happy to see. So Rocco does need to leave at about 2:30. We will keep things moving, then we will be available. Thank you again to NOAA. I am glad you could be here with us.

SCOTT GUDES: Let me say real quickly that Rocco is now the official golfer of NOAA. Since we got an agreement to do this PSA, we have 12 and a half thousand people around the country and weather forecast offices. You would not believe all the emails now and the fans that you have, following last Sunday. My wife came in when the U.S. Open was on. She said, will they -- I want to see Rocco, get the TV back to him. So we really do appreciate, we know, yes, we all sit and watch golf and enjoy it, try to emulate sometimes on the course, but we know how hard it is, how much work you do, how you need to practice. Let us have Rocco come on up.

ROCCO MEDIATE: This is a great poster. I enjoyed doing -- let's see, back in, I believe it was '91 Hazeltine, lightning had killed a few people, some of the fans. That didn't -- we didn't have the warning systems we do now back then. I think I am right. I live in Sawgrass, I live in Jacksonville, and TPC, I don't know what they are called but I think it was invented at the International. Tell me if I am wrong, but it warns my kids because they play outside a lot. I think it is 10 to 20 miles and that thing goes off in my backyard because I am right on the golf course. We have the ultimate safety; it is perfect. As players, we completely rely on all this equipment and all the meteorologists, and everything going on, because as much as we are out in late afternoon, especially on Sundays, when you are out there late or Saturdays, and it is 95 degrees there's thunderstorms going to come no matter what. If I even think I see something, I am out. I don't care where I am, what I am doing, it is just too dangerous, and when they approached me, I don't know when it was that NOAA approached me, it was a month or so ago, I was delighted to do it because with kids and stuff, with all the fans that are out there. Just like last week, big storm came in, I don't know how they got everybody off the golf course. Because it was nasty at Southern Hills. Without the equipment and the meteorologists around us, it would be a lot worse. It was fun for me to do it. Hopefully, it is going to help -- if it saves one person, its done its job as far as I am concerned. I was happy to do it. We had a great time. It was amazing I could do all that in one take. It took 15 minutes plus a couple of hours, then we were done. Anyway, I am glad to be a part of it. I will continue to do what they need me to do within reason, I think it is a good place to start it. The posters are going to be cool. I guess they are going into all the pro shops. People will know more than they did before. That's all they are trying to do. I have enjoyed it so far, being a part of it. (APPLAUSE)

SCOTT GUDES: Rocco definitely is going to save lives, no doubt about it. Your poster will be in every weather forecast office around the country. I'd like to introduce Mike Utley. Mike was hit by lightning, actually playing golf in new England about a year ago. Quite moving talking to him, and we will talk a little bit about the effect of lightening for those people who are hit and actually get through and survive, and what it means to their lives as well. Mike.

MIKE UTLEY: Thank you, Scott. I was hit while playing golf, Cape Cod golf course. They blew the siren and 15 seconds later, my buddies turned around to see me fall to the ground smoking. Luckily, one of the guys in my foursome new CPR, so they worked on me for ten minutes before the E.M.T.'S got there. You need to know CPR. it is important. Other thing, when you look around the country now, you see recreation areas that have five, six, sometimes 10 or more football, soccer fields all together. If you look at that recreation, yeah, what is the tallest thing out there? Our kids. And with everybody watching the game so intently, who is watching the sky? Lightning puts new emphasis on "reach out and touch somebody." So one of the worse things to happen might not be dying, if you don't know CPR and you are out in that field, your kid gets hit by lightning and you stand there, watch him die. What kind of life are you going to have? It's really important to know CPR. you can save lives and they are important. That's pretty much all I have to say. I am happy to be here. It's a struggle to get back. Your mind is fried, your body is burnt out. I have a three-year-old daughter that we had hit golf balls in the front yard everyday, whiffle balls I have a third of a swing, I have got a 7-iron that goes 100 yards. I am getting there. I don't lose many balls. I can see where they go now. But CPR is very important. We need to watch the sky. The life you save is important. It is a long road back. It is a struggle. You have to learn how to do little things like eat with utensils and shave all over again. Some of the bigger stuff like walk; next year I will be playing golf again. But watch the sky. The life you save is important. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

. SCOTT GUDES: Thank you, finally, Dr. Mary Ann Cooper is here. She has worked with a lot of survivors from Lightning Strikes. I have been able to listen to her talk about lightning. I don't think I have ever met anybody who is a greater expert on lightning, so come on up.

DOCTOR COOPER: Thank you. I'd like to thank NOAA and the National Weather Service. It is a dream come true for me. I have been doing lightning injuries for 20 plus years. And to have something like this reach the notoriety and reach the public the way I hope it is going to, is just phenomenal. I'd also like to thank John here. He is the fellow back here, all the way from Maine who wrote the proposal to start the national -- the first National Lightning Awareness Week. I'd also like to thank the PGA TOUR, Ana, and Rocco who is a pro in more ways than one, you know, I like to thank all of you too. I am an emergency doc from the University of Illinois. That means I take care of regular kids who have fevers and heart attacks and things like that. My area of interest has been lightning injuries. I have been doing that for 20 years or more. I hear the stories like Mike's. I get the e-mails, but it is you all that have made the big difference. This is a good story, but it is the stories that you publish, that you write, that you get out there that have made the difference in lightning, safety and lightning awareness and the safety rules out there. It is now after 20 years of doing this, I am now seeing it in the camping literature, in the park district management literature, the duty to warn on golf courses, pool literature, and it is because the media has gotten the word out there. So really, thank you a lot for that. I have two simple messages. One, you don't want to be a lightning victim and No. 2 you are personally responsible for your own lightning safety because this is an individual injury. The national weather service does a supper job of warning us of hurricane cases in advance, tornadoes minutes to hours in advance but they are never going to be able to ever worn every individual of every lightning strike that is out there. So it is an individual responsibility. The individual, if they know the rules can markedly decrease their risks of becoming lightning victim. Now 90% of people who get hit by lightning survive. But they may survive with a lot of permanent problems somewhere similar to Mike's: It's a nervous system injury. Burns are the least of the problem. He says he was fried but he really had very few burns. He is talking about his nervous system being fried, his brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system. Chronic pain problems, difficulty focusing, difficulty with the software in your brain so that you no longer process information the way you used to, multi-tasking is difficult. Short-term memory is a problem. The 10% of the people who die, the only cause of death is from coronary pulmonary arrest. Your heart is stopping when the lightning hits you at the time of the injury. That is why we are so hot on CPR. CPR can save a life in this kind of a situation. People are not electrified when they are injured, they are safe to touch. That may sound like it's silly but I get that question all the time. They are safe to touch. They are safe to started rescue on immediately. Call 911, get reinforcements and remember that you are in the middle of an active thunderstorm so you may want to consider moving that person. In 20 years plus of doing lightning work I can think of very few times that moving a person would have injured them in anymore significant way. You don't want to be become a victim yourself and lightning does hit the same place more than once. There are a couple of safety rules and if you learn them, they are beautifully outlined on the Lightning Awareness Week web site, you can decrease your risks. I think the most important thing is to be prepared. Know what the National Weather Service, know what the meteorologists are saying about the weather. Have alternative plans if it's not going to be good weather. If you are outside and you see a thunderhead coming up, thunderstorm coming up, have a plan before that thunderstorm comes in the area. That plan should include a safer place to go to, as well as how long it is going to take you to get there, particularly if you are responsible for an entire field of kids playing soccer and for their parents. This plan should probably be particularly for organized sports in soccer leagues and things like that. It needs to be agreed on before the season starts. You can have not only your snack parent on the Saturday of your day, you can have the spotter parents, because it is not the coaches and referees job to watch the sky. It is their job to watch the team. So agree on the plan before the season starts. Now I say safer shelters because we will never guarantee that you are absolutely safe from lightning inside. Safer shelters include substantial buildings such as homes libraries, schools, things like that. They do not include golf shelters, bus shelters, pool shelters, sun shelters, those types of things. I think one of the most important things is that adults are always responsible for the children under their care and they need to take that into account when they are coaching. The only other thing is stay away from tall objects from water, know the 30/30 rule, the first 30 is the 30 seconds before the lightning and the thunderstorm get to you. Actually I don't even count the 30 seconds. When I see lightning, I clear it. When you hear the thunder, you get away and start evacuating because you are already in danger by the time you can see lightning and hear thunder. I will have brochures at the back for any of the press that would like to have a copy of it. The National Support Gripe has been around 10, 11 years now. It's done wonderful things with survivors. Mike is a member of it as well. Other thing I have got for your refrigerator, a magnet, we did with NOAA and National Weather Forecast that have a lot of lightning safety rules. No one gets caught in a thunderstorm unless they have already made too many bad decisions. If you know the rules, you can avoid lightning injury the majority of the time. So in summary don't be a victim. Know the lightning safety rules. If you see it, flee it. If you hear it, clear it. Have a plan, follow your plan. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

SCOTT GUDES: That's great advice. I often say that we have the greatest National Weather Service in the world. We do a lot at our agency to try to get the forecasts out but it doesn't really work if the public doesn't listen and if the public doesn't take precautions. That's what this Lightning Awareness Week is about. It is about trying to get people really to get out of harm's way and be safe and help us get down the number of injuries and help us reduce the number of deaths from lightning every year. I wanted to say thank you to everyone. We did have some plaques up here. I wanted to get Jack Heller, Director of the National Weather Service to come here if he could.

ANA LEAIRD: Please join me thanking all the folks, Dr. Cooper, Michael Utley, Scott, everyone from NOAA for being with us here. It was a terrific opportunity. I know Rocco and all the players thank you as well.

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