No lightning! But your electronics just got damaged! How?

A client of mine was in his TV production studio when lightning struck the building. He could smell that sweet tasting smell of burning electronics. He inspected all of his equipment but couldn't find anything damaged, and all the gear was still fully operational.

That evening they shut everything down and went home for the weekend. On Monday morning they power all the equipment back up, and that sweet tasting smell of burning electronics was back. It made no sense as everything was still operational. He and his team hunted all over the studio for the scent and eventually found that it was emanating from their pretty expensive Yamaha mixing-desk.

What happened? How can equipment that is clearly damaged continue to work?

Let's look into the three types of damage caused to electronics from lightning surges:

1.     Hard failures.

Hard failures occur when surges of significant amplitude cause permanent damage to the equipment. This type of damage kills your electronics immediately!

2.     System interruptions.

System interruptions are temporary malfunctions that are fixed by cycling the power of the equipment and results in no permanent damage.

Before we examine the third type, let's talk a bit about insurers.

On the Highveld, insurers have suffered huge losses from claims arising from lightning surges. Some are now tracking and recording lightning strikes. When an insurance claim is submitted for lightning damaged equipment; the incident date is compared to their recorded data of lightning strikes and is only honoured if the two match. Should the dates not match the claim is repudiated.

This leaves you hanging as you have a damage report clearly stating lightning surge damage, but your insurer says there was no lightning on that day.

How is this possible?

Let's look at the third type of damage caused by lightning surges.

3.     Latent failures.

Latent failures cause minor damage to equipment, but the electronics experience an increased rate of degradation. This means that the equipment will continue to work until the electronics degrade to the point that a hard failure occurs. With latent failures, your gear could work for a few days, weeks or even months which leads to interesting scenarios.

A typical scenario is that you have a damage report stating lightning surge damage, but it's winter here on the Highveld, and there is no lightning. Your client disputes the report, and your supplier says the evidence is clear that it was lightning damage.

Another scenario is the insurer repudiating the lightning damage claim because it's out of lightning season and they have documented proof that there was no lightning on the day the equipment failed. Yet you have in hand a damage report stating lightning damage.

I have no advice for you on how to handle these challenging and stressful scenarios but just know that it is a latent equipment failure from a lightning strike.

Cheers for now,

Bruno

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