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Re: [TowerTalk] Lightning Damage and Insurance

To: "'Don Tucker'" <>, "Towertalk" <>
Subject: Re: [TowerTalk] Lightning Damage and Insurance
From: "Dick Green WC1M" <>
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 2010 12:11:10 -0400
List-post: <">>
This response is partly about the details of a significant lightning event
and partly about the insurance company's response. I'm giving you a little
more than you asked for because I think the details provide good background
for the insurance discussion and may be of technical benefit to you and
others on the reflector. 

We had a massive surge a couple of years ago, not long after I completed
installing a new 110' Rohn 55 tower. I don't believe the tower was hit
directly, but picked up a tremendous amount of induced energy from a nearby
hit on a tree in the woods. The tower is very well grounded: uFer ground in
the base connected to three 50' radials made of 1/0 wire, each with four
ground rods (total of 12.) Every conductor is either connected to a
suppressor at the base of the tower or grounded. The conductors run 225 feet
underground to an identical set of suppressors mounted on the side of the
house, where there's a single-point ground bonded to all the service company
grounds, which are of reasonable quality.

On the tower, the stack switch had a bunch of burned out diodes and a
vaporized printed circuit board trace. One coax run was damaged at the top
of the tower, as well as the center insulator of the 2-el 40m beam to which
it was connected. At the base of the tower, some relays and resistors were
damaged in an SO2R switch box. But the damage was far worse in the shack.
The surge came into the shack via three Green Heron rotor controllers and
three SteppIR controllers. The only damage in the rotor controllers was a
burned out FET driver, cheap and easy to replace. But the SteppIR
controllers were heavily damaged with burned out driver boards, transceiver
interface boards and subtle damage to the CPUs. But that wasn't the really
bad news. The surge travelled over the RS-232 interfaces of the SteppIR
controllers to my computer, destroying the motherboard and several I/O
cards. Then it travelled to every piece of equipment connected to the RS-232
card: an Alpha 87A amp (damaged CPU and RS-232 chip), an Acom 2000A amp
(damaged CPU and support chips), a Ten-Tec Orion (damaged CPU board, radio
unfixable per Ten-Tec), an RS-232 interface to an FT-1000D (which saved the
latter), an SO2R switch box/keyer (damaged CPU), and a microHam stackMax
controller and info display (damaged CPUs and RS-232 chips.) Also lost a
digital scale, a garage door opener board, a very expensive high-end CD
player in our stereo system, and an LNB in a satellite dish.

While I'm a big believer in suppressors, the units on the market are
designed for coax connections to radios and rotor cable connections to
simple rotor controllers. But I don't believe that MOV-based devices are
adequate for some of today's new solid-state devices like SteppIR
controllers, advanced rotor controllers and advanced stack controllers. The
problem is that the MOVs allow too great a rise in voltage for some of the
delicate semiconductor chips and transistors that are directly connected to
the control wires in some cases. I believe that my suppressors worked, but
the protection was not adequate for the voltage-intolerant devices connected
to them. The nature of the damage corroborates this theory: except for the
stack switch on the tower, there was no visible evidence of the surge. This
suggests that a relatively small rise in voltage killed or slightly damaged
many of the chips (there was at least one case where a CPU operated
perfectly except for the I/O port connected to the RS-232 chip.)

Further, in the case of the SteppIR controllers, a shorted control line can
burn out the driver chips because they periodically pulse the motors to
tension the tapes. So if the suppressor shunts the line to ground at the
wrong moment, the controller will destroy itself. An additional factor in my
situation was the fact that the RS-232 circuitry in the SteppIR controller
is connected to the driver board and shares some of the power supply rails.
This is how the RS-232 circuit provided a path for the surge back to the

Bottom line, suppressors probably don't provide adequate protection for some
of the latest equipment. For that reason, I've installed a comprehensive
patch-panel system for both the ham and stereo gear so that this won't
happen again.

In all, the cost of repair and replacement was about $10,000. Our
home-owners insurance covered 100%, except for the deductible, which I think
was on the order of $250. The insurance company (The Hanover Insurance
Company) was incredibly cooperative and prompt in settling the claim. I
attempted to reduce their cost by doing a lot of troubleshooting and some of
the repair myself. If anything, I was the bottleneck in the process. The
adjuster actually pushed me to finish up the work so he could issue the
check and close the claim. But I wanted to make absolutely sure I had found
all of the damage. Sometimes lightning damage is very subtle. For example, I
didn't find out the SteppIR CPUs had been damaged until about 9 months after
the event (and had to cover it out of pocket.) Anyway, had I not done the
troubleshooting and some of the repair, the bill would have been much higher
(the total replacement value of the damaged equipment was north of $30,000.)

Immediately after the event, I called the insurance company. When the
adjuster called back I described the incident. Although I disclosed that I'm
a ham radio operator and the incident was related to antennas (and, of
course, I told them what kind of equipment had been damaged), we didn't get
into a detailed discussion on the tower. I followed up by sending the
adjuster a list of all damaged equipment with details on brand, model, date
of purchase, original cost and preliminary estimate of replacement cost or
cost to repair. Since a lot of the equipment was unfamiliar to him, the
claims adjuster brought in a technical consultant to work with me to detail
the damage and determine replacement value, which mainly applied to the
Ten-Tec Orion (almost half the total claim.) Neither the adjuster nor the
consultant came out for an on-site inspection. They took my word for
everything. However, this is probably because I live in a rural area far
from their nearest office and the cost of sending someone out wouldn't have
been worth it. Also, I put it all in writing so they would have some legal
recourse if I'd been lying. 

Near as I can tell, my premiums did not increase as a result of the
incident. Bottom line, I couldn't have been more pleased with the insurance
company's attitude and performance.

73, Dick WC1M

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Don Tucker []
> Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 10:34 PM
> To: Towertalk
> Subject: [TowerTalk] Lightning Damage and Insurance
> I'd like to start a new thread but around the lightning damage inputs many
> of you have made. I moved a few years ago from Portland OR (close to 0
> lightning issues at the location I was in) to the central OR coast (one
> of a lot more lightning as the storms roll in off the ocean and against
> Coast mtn range), but no strikes. Still maintain the Portland home, but
> that's another story.
> I have the probably a little better than typical homeowners insurance
> (obtained through AARP) but never gave much thought to the issue of what
> coverage, if any, there is in the policy that would cover my equipment,
> towers or antennas and feedlines.  Response to the one claim I've had as a
> result of a severe wind storm here on the coast was handled excellently
> without delay, and the adjustment fairer than I expected. I do intend to
> bring the question of station coverage up with the company.
> I'd be interested in input from those who have had bad or good insurance
> encounters relating to claims involving amateur radio stations.  You may
> contact me directly. Don't want to see any insurance company bashing on
> reflector.
> Thanks,
> Don W7WLL


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