Does Your Security Lighting Make the Grade?

Oct. 26, 2012
Upgrade outdated security lighting to keep your facility and its occupants safe.

Security lighting.  Do your occupants feel safe at night?

The answer may surprise you. Despite your best efforts, your facility isn’t providing a sense of security if it isn’t lit correctly inside and out.

Not only does the situation damage perceptions of the building, but you may also be creating dangerous conditions that make you liable for any incidents to which inadequate lighting contributes.

Re-Evaluate Existing Lighting
The lighting at Lion’s Crossing, a privately owned 204-unit apartment complex near Penn State University, was upgraded in summer 2011 to resolve ongoing concerns with outdated, inefficient exterior lighting. The aging fixtures housed inefficient 100-watt incandescent bulbs that produced a yellowish glow and created glare that permeated the surrounding apartments.

Their 8-foot posts and plastic covers made them easy targets for vandalism –about half of the 28 fixtures were deliberately damaged, and there was no way to replace them because the fixtures had been discontinued. Worst of all, residents didn’t feel safe in the 17-building, 17-acre complex.

The South Durham Water Reclamation Facility in Durham, NC, also faced a safety conundrum. The site processes up to 20 million gallons of potable water per day, and because maintenance often occurs at night, the South Durham crew needed the best visibility possible. But that wasn’t their only concern – the team also wanted an energy-efficient solution to drive down operating costs, which would help support the city’s goal of reducing local government’s annual emissions by 50% by 2030.

Sound familiar? If so, it may be time to retrofit more efficient, durable lighting that offers better performance.

“One good indicator that a retrofit is needed is that you can’t continue outdoors what you were doing successfully indoors because the lighting is so poor and your visual acuity is decreased when you exit,” says Steve Surfaro, vice president of the Physical Security Council for the security professionals’ association ASIS International.

To assess whether revamping your lighting is the best option, consider how well the existing lighting eliminates blind spots and allows accurate color perception, navigability, recognition, and identification. Is the lighting well distributed? Is the area around your security camera lit well enough to enable quality video?

“Historically, flood lighting has been commonly used to increase security for the simple reason that criminals prefer darkness,” notes Dave Stanfield, senior product marketing manager for Pelco by Schneider Electric. “However, the increasing cost of power due to higher demand is causing security professionals to rethink this philosophy, even with the advent of new camera technologies that address low light conditions.”

The Planning Phase

6 Musts for Security Lighting

  1. Provide a clear view of the area from a distance and enable anyone moving in or immediately around it to be easily seen.

  2. Deny potential hiding spaces adjacent to frequently traveled foot routes.

  3. Permit facial identification at a distance of at least 30 feet and create the perception of being identifiable.

  4. Facilitate the proper use of other security devices, such as cameras.

  5. Deter crime against people and property.

  6. Enhance the public’s feeling of comfort in accessing spaces by increasing night-time pedestrian traffic.

As you determine the best retrofit strategy, consider the principles of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), a design philosophy that includes advice on proper lighting, to discover which areas to target.

For example, campuses may require additional lighting at transport stops, Surfaro notes. Corporate facilities, on the other hand, would more likely focus on perimeter and entrance areas for optimal identification of visitors.

Along with CPTED, consider the recommendations for ambient illumination released by the International Committee on Illumination (CIE) and adopted by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). CIE designates environmental zones based on your location, ranking your site from E1 (nature) to E4 (urban) and endorsing a certain level of illumination for each situation.

A 2003 IES technical guideline, G1-03: Guideline for Security Lighting for People, Property, and Public Spaces, can also be a valuable reference on security lighting principles.

How to Pick the Right Replacement
First determine how you need the end product to perform and work backward from there, Surfaro advises.

“What is the functional requirement of the building? How are you expecting to improve your facility’s security?” asks Surfaro. “For example, from an observation standpoint, the quality of the lighting at entrance portals is important for identity verification and to maintain safety in public spaces.”

Beyond performance requirements, the IES guideline recommends weighing potential security lighting retrofits against these four factors:

  1. Economics. “There’s always a cost implication, but there’s also the cost of avoidance,” explains Nat Drucker, application engineering manager for manufacturer RAB Lighting. “If you don’t do it, what could it cost compared to the cost of the project?”

  2. Environmental issues. This is especially important for exterior lighting due to the possibility of light pollution affecting surrounding flora and fauna and light trespass intruding on your neighbors.

  3. Local regulations. Ensure you understand all local ordinances that apply to lighting, Drucker recommends. “You may run into situations where local codes are less than ideal or not professionally based, so aside from the issue of compliance, you may also have to request a variance to meet project requirements.”

  4. Energy consumption. As with any lighting retrofit, energy conservation is a vital concern. “Approach the project’s lighting requirements with a mind for energy,” Drucker advises. “There are a lot of good energy sources today that will allow you to do good design, meet the requirements, and still have a conservation component.”

Penn State answered these questions with a complete replacement of all 28 fixtures, which were swapped out for new 15-foot poles bearing 20-watt LED area lights. The taller pole height kept the lamps out of reach of vandals, and the lamps themselves performed well in cold weather, a vital consideration in light of Pennsylvania’s brutal winters.

The LEDs were rated at 100,000 hours of life and offered an optimal brightness level and excellent directionality, helping students and visitors navigate without creating light pollution.

The best discovery? Using LEDs resulted in an 80% reduction in energy cost compared to the 100-watt incandescent bulbs previously used at the campus. The Durham facility achieved a similar victory, shaving its energy consumption by about 64% after replacing its 20-year-old, high-pressure sodium lighting with 45 LED flood luminaires.

Maintain Safety after the Retrofit
To keep the newly well-lit environment safe after retrofitting security lighting, keep a close eye on the system by visually inspecting it (and the rest of your lighting) every day, Drucker says. This way, you can take quick action if something goes wrong.

For parking lots and other outdoor areas, have emergency lighting available as backup. The design of the new lighting system should allow for the occasional outage without compromising safety, but keeping emergency equipment on hand is never a bad idea.

“If you have a smart team, they’ll design the system so that if a deficit occurs, the other parts of the system can cover it,” Drucker explains. “Look at the design and say ‘What happens if this fixture goes out? Is my design capable of handling that area to a certain level, rather than just having a black hole until the repair occurs?’ You’ve got to put a little extra effort in your design.”

Janelle Penny [email protected] is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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