Lighting for Security

a guest post by Lisa J. Reed, Lighting Designer

While there have been a number of studies on the topic of security lighting and some have indicated that lighting may improve security, as a whole these studies have been inconclusive. Lighting may or may not contribute to a person’s sense of security, an

Can a building’s lighting contribute to its security? It sure feels like it, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m not the only one who parks in the brightest part of the parking lot at night, am I? While there have been a number of studies on the topic of security lighting and some have indicated that lighting may improve security, as a whole these studies have been inconclusive. Lighting may or may not contribute to a person’s sense of security, and it might or might not reduce crime.

What do we need to consider if we are designing lighting for security?

  1. Horizontal vs. vertical footcandles
    Usually we think of light levels as the amount of light on the horizontal plane – on the ground or on a desk – but with security lighting, it’s critical to be able to identify the features of an approaching person. In this case, vertical illuminance is essential. Use fixtures that will put light not only onto the ground but also onto the faces of pedestrians. This light can be reflected off of the ground, off of a building, or directly from a security light.
  2. Glare
    When we get overly ambitious about those vertical footcandles, we quickly create glare. Shining light directly into someone’s eyes is rarely desirable (unless we’re lighting a prison yard, but that’s another level of security and a separate topic.) A wall-mounted fixture can be a good choice for security lighting. Just be sure to take into account the amount of glare your project can tolerate when selecting wall packs or wall-mounted floodlights. One major failure of bad security lighting is creating glare that actually reduces visibility instead of improving it.
  3. Location of the fixture
    Locate the light fixture so that it directs the light where you need it. Be careful not to create shadows with lighting locations, which can become a place for bad guys to lurk.
  4. Control of the lights
    It is also important to decide how the security lights will be controlled. Will they be operated from dusk to dawn with a photocell? Or maybe a time switch will be used to turn them on and off at the appropriate hour. A manual “panic” button can be effective in an occupied space. But my personal favorite is to control security lights with a motion sensor. When no one is around the lights aren’t on and energy is not wasted. If someone enters the property or the space, the lights automatically come on. This can potentially frighten an intruder and alerts others nearby that someone is moving about in the secured area where the lights are normally off.
  5. Coordination with other systems, such as security cameras
    The quality of security cameras has improved greatly over the years so that they can accommodate many colors of lighting. However, glare into the camera can be debilitating. For best results, mount lights near cameras and aim them away from the lens to avoid washing out the captured image.

Whether or not lighting actually improves security, these tips should help you get the most out of any security lighting you do install.

Lisa J Reed photo - Lighting Blog

Lisa J. Reed has been attracted to lighting (like a moth to a flame) for 20+ years. She is the Founding Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC in St. Louis, where she designs, teaches, and writes about architectural lighting. Connect with Lisa J. Reed on Google+.

 

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