Topic: College of Communication Information and Media

June 29, 2009

Ball State University student Ellen Bryan wants everyone to know that lightning is dangerous, and she is sharing her story at every opportunity — whether it's with Miss Ohio pageant judges or the national media.

Nine years ago, her older sister was struck by lightning while working at a golf course in Celina, Ohio, and was left unable to walk or speak.

"My sister Christina is the biggest inspiration in my life, but I never want anyone else to endure the challenges and struggles she has faced as a result of being struck by lightning," said Bryan, who expects to graduate in 2011 with a degree in telecommunications. "What happened to her profoundly changed my life. It has been my mission since that day to warn people."

As the spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lightning safety awareness campaign, Bryan has taken her message to a national audience, having been featured by USA Today.

"In the last few months, I have been able to talk to more than 1,200 students and 100 businesses about lightning," she said. "I've attended meetings held by the local Rotary, the Shriners Club and the Safety Council Organization. Through radio and television interviews, I was able to target an even broader audience and tell thousands of people about the consequences lightning can bring."

Her experience as a telecommunications student at Ball State has helped her in her cause, she added.

"Ball State has been instrumental in my approach to this campaign. I've applied what I learned in class and from the one-on-one interactions with faculty in the telecommunications department."

Spreading the message

Bryan approached NOAA officials earlier this year about promoting lightning safety. As a result, she and her sister appear in a new nationwide public service announcement. The video may be viewed here.

NOAA and the National Weather Service (NWS) have been promoting Lightning Safety Awareness Week across the country since 2001.

"When Ellen and Christina Bryan joined our 2009 campaign, they brought a new and valuable perspective to our effort," said Donna Franklin, chairperson of the NWS' lightning safety awareness committee. "While we have deep knowledge about lightning, the Bryan family has intimate personal experience with the lasting effects of a lightning injury. By sharing their personal story, they have re-energized our campaign. Ellen's personal message, so eloquently presented in our new video public service announcement, is reaching a wide audience and engaging and educating young people on how serious lightning injuries can be.

"Our goal has always been to reduce the number of lightning injuries and fatalities. We're grateful for Ellen's contributions, which are certain to make a difference."

Miss Ohio pageant

Bryan also recently entered the Miss Ohio Scholarship Program in a further effort to spread her message about lightning awareness. With her sister at her side, Bryan was fourth runner-up in the annual competition, during which she adopted NOAA's slogan, "When thunder roars, go indoors."

"I had that slogan for years before the pageant," she said. "But it was a great way to educate a new audience."

While resuming her academic career this fall Bryan still plans to push the message about how to avoid become a victim of lightning.

"My sister is my rock, but everyone should know it only takes one instance of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a storm for them to be struck," Bryan said. "Lightning can affect you or someone you love."