MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Six-hundred-and-fifty acres of land make up the National Sports Center in Blaine.

“As you can see there’s very few trees out here, so if a storm does approach, I mean, we’re all very prone to being struck by lightning,” said Bret Kirchner, NSC’s assistant superintendent.

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The fields are home to one of the biggest summer soccer tournaments in the country, with tens of thousands of visitors.

“We have had lightning strikes hit this area and do damage to our irrigation systems,” Kirchner said.

NSC is looking for lightning sensors for early detection that could help save lives.

(credit: City of Woodbury)

“As soon as it reaches a threshold for the amount of static electricity in the atmosphere, that will signal horn clusters scattered around the campus to let all of our guests know that danger’s in the area,” Kirchner sad.

The system is up and running in Woodbury at the Health East Sports Complex, and in other places across the metro.

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Blaine has applied for assistance from FEMA to help pay for the $90,000 system.

“Both the state and the federal government have interests in taking what we call ‘mitigation steps’ to protect the public from the effects of storms,” said Joe Kelly, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

He says every time there is a federally-declared disaster, FEMA will allocate another 15 percent for mitigation. It is those dollars that the National Sports Center hopes to tap into.

Having the sensors will take the guessing game out of when to continue playing, and when to run for cover.

“It takes the stress off referees and coaches for making that decision,” Kirchner said. “[On] one field, the ref might call the game, where on the next field the ref might not.”

The federal government has calculated that for every dollar invested in mitigation projects, its saves $6 in future damage.

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NSC should know in the next few months if it is been funded for the lightning sensors.

Reg Chapman