Source: FEMA

Security lighting should be provided for overall site/building illumination and its perimeter to allow security personnel to maintain visual assessment during darkness. Lighting may provide both a real and psychological deterrent for continuous or periodic observation. It is relatively inexpensive to maintain and may reduce the need for security personnel by reducing opportunities for concealment and surprise by potential attackers.

Security lighting is the most significant crime deterrent. It enhances natural surveillance, delineates private and public spaces, can direct access and reduces fear in legitimate users.

Security lighting should be installed in areas that could conceal an attacker adjacent to, as well as in, high-risk areas such as ATMs, cluster mail boxes, pay phones, vehicle entrances, parking areas, pedestrian routes and exterior entrances.

Transitional lighting should be incorporated in exterior areas going to and from the building(s) or areas within the site. The object is to light up the criminal without spotlighting the victim.

Motion-activated lights help attract attention to movement making them very effective for natural surveillance. Lighting directed up and toward a facility or wall will create large shadows with exaggerated movement when an intruder passes in front, thereby gaining the attention of people from great distances. Light directed down and away will illuminate intruders lying in wait.

Landscape and perimeter lighting defines boundaries and establishes territory. Light directed horizontally away from spaces will provide visual security and prevent unwanted observation into the facility or space (ideal for very high risk locations). Although The Illuminating Engineers Society of North America has created standards for lighting uniformity, security lighting should have the following objectives:

  • Provide a clear line of view of an area from a distance and enable anyone moving in, or immediately around, the area to be easily seen
  • Deny potential hiding spaces adjacent to frequently traveled foot routes 
  • Permit facial recognition from a distance of at least 30 feet
  • Facilitate the proper use of security devices such as CCTV

What is a quick, unscientific way to determine if lighting is adequate for security? The answer: Users should be able to easily read a newspaper at night from a distance of arms’ length.

Often linked to outdoor lighting, security lighting is used indoors as well. Lighting for security or safety does not imply bright lighting. Effective security lighting will allow building occupants to see the faces of visitors at the front door, allow police officers to see inside a building from the outside and provide sufficient illumination to deter potential criminals. Light trespass is often the result of ineffective security lighting.

Lighting cannot prevent disasters or attacks nor can it guarantee human safety if such unforeseen events occur.  Rather, lighting is a tool that, used wisely, can increase security and safety.  Used unwisely, it can waste precious resources and actually detract from these goals.