There isn’t a day during summer where lightning doesn’t strike somewhere in the United States, and thanks to high temperatures and big storms, Kentucky gets more than most.

Last month, lightning once again struck the BAFF (BioAcoustic Fish Fence) system located at Barkley Lock on the Cumberland River in Northwest Kentucky – the third such occurrence in the last 18 months. 

The strike occurred on June 21 and damaged the telemetry hydrophones used to assess the system, as well as one of the 10 BAFF Power Supply Units, and the loss of an outdoor modem and router, which led to loss of remote access to the main system, but local control remained fully operational.  Thanks to measures installed over recent maintenance and upgrade cycles only minimal damage was done to the BAFF system


After the strike, a full assessment of the BAFF system was conducted by engineers from Fish Guidance Systems, working with local Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources staff, to understand the potential issues and formulate a plan. All deployed components were confirmed to be functioning, with all hubs within tolerances, and only one registering a high voltage.

The high voltage was found to be due to a damaged Control Equipment Power Supply Unit (PSU), in the Control Room Conex, and once local contractors replaced the unit the system was returned to full service. The original PSU will be repaired and then maintained as a spare, allowing for any future work on site.

In addition, a team of researchers from USFWS’s BAFF Research Group attended site at the end of June to investigate the damage to the telemetry system and where possible they replaced the failed hydrophones.

The damage could have been much worse to the BAFF system, but thanks to the installation of surge suppression devices on every underwater element of the system, as well as optically isolated cards on the communication system, the system was able to sustain only minimal damage.

Constant Improvement

An important part of innovation is learning from when technology systems such as the BAFF are challenged by nature.  Following the latest assessment of the system FGS will introduce additional improvements that will help create further resilience. These improvements include the installation of additional surge suppression devices to the output stage of the PSUs, which will prevent them getting damaged by the ‘whip crack’ effect of current surge travelling back up the supply cabling.

In addition, investigations continue into possible isolations and suppressors for the remote access router/modem, including new devices and alternative placement of the router. 

FGS will return to the site later in the year as part of the standard repair and maintenance schedule, and will incorporate the additional upgrades during the visit.

For further information about the BAFF system please contact FGS.