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Facility lighting

Effective security lighting needs expert guidance

The need for enhanced security will be on the mind of every facility security officer in view of recent global terrorist attacks and active shooter cases. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. But, the security and safety of employees, contractors, visitors and the facility itself can be enhanced with effective lighting, says Thomas Venezio* 

Effective security lighting is a requirement of the approved Facility Security Plan set out in the US Government’s Code of Federal Regulations.

Under Title 33, Section 105.275 of the federal code, the facility owner or operator must ensure that security measures are in place in this section and must be able to monitor them continuously through a combination of lighting, security guards, waterborne patrols, automatic intrusion-detection devices and surveillance equipment.

Facility lighting

Facility lighting must not produce glare or impact safety, navigation and other security activities. Facility security officers (FSOs) must comply with federal regulations, but it’s a lot more than just being in compliance; it should truly be about keeping your people safe from any potential threat or risk.


The positioning, direction and intensity of lighting can all contribute to improved security and safety. Often, a facility security assessment will identify a lighting upgrade as a viable and cost-effective way of mitigating risk. Improved lighting can reduce the vulnerability of a facility by providing a deterrent to breaches of security. Further, a retrofit security lighting project can help reduce the overall cost of security services and the FSO should strongly consider facility lighting as an effective risk mitigation measure. Nonetheless, everything starts with a facility security assessment, which is the foundation for reliable security organizations (see diagram below).

Once it has been decided to upgrade, the first task is to identify the facility’s security lighting needs. A thorough and unbiased appraisal will look at questions like what type, how many and where to place them – and the associated risks. Each situation requires careful study to provide the best visibility, to prevent illegal entry, to detect intruders and to deter security breaches. If the assessment shows that improved lighting is a higher priority, the FSO may consider different lighting above recommended industry standards.

The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) is looked on as a reliable lighting authority throughout North America. Its 10th Edition Lighting Handbook, along with other IES documents on roadways, parking, exterior environments and walkways, identify industry best practices for exterior applications.

Effective lighting for safety and security should consider:

  • Horizontal illumination: With many tasks being horizontal, this is the primary lighting metric, but is less critical for security than other metrics such as vertical and uniformity.
  • Vertical illumination: Very critical, because the main security issues are identifying persons and vehicles along with their movement, which is best done by viewing their vertical surfaces.
  • Uniformity/shadows: This is critical to avoid dark areas where people or objects may hide. Uniformity also enhances the effectiveness of video cameras.
  • Glare: Lighting pointed in the wrong direction can cause glare that can make it hard for employees, security personnel and cameras to identify people and objects. No light should ever be emitted above the light source’s horizontal plane – meaning, we need to see what is being lit, not the light itself. Note: lighting cannot negatively impact navigation, safety and other security activities.


The FSO should select the most appropriate light source and wattage. The general rule is that the higher the wattage, the greater the efficacy (lumen per watt output) of the lamp. In addition, high-wattage lamps usually allow high ratios of spacing to mounting height, thus allowing the fixtures to be well elevated on a pole or structure, out of reach of vandals.

A common misconception is that lighting alone will achieve safety and security. Security lighting allows security personnel to maintain visual-assessment capability when it’s dark. Instead, the collective wisdom denotes a combination of a thorough security assessment, good design elements that include appropriate lighting levels, security activities, proper surveillance equipment and maintenance.

Some things to consider are:

  • Lighting fixtures insufficiently safeguarded from vandalism
  • Lamps not inspected and sufficiently cleaned in conditions of high dirt accumulation
  • Lamps not replaced before they burn out, thus creating non-uniform lighting conditions
  • Need for FSO to make regular patrols around the facility looking for these symptoms and for burned-out lights
  • FSO should also encourage employees to report any lights that are burned out or causing a glare.

In today’s world, security and safety are a much higher priority. For whatever reason a facility decides to install, upgrade or retrofit lighting, each facility is unique and requires a thorough security assessment that includes a risk-based analysis.

Remember, security starts with the assessment; and your FSO should strive for pre-eminent security and safety, not mere compliance with regulations.

*Thomas Venezio is director of training for Seebald & Associates International, a full-service maritime security firm based in Houston, Texas.