Security Lighting

Security Lightning: How to choose the right lighting for CCTV, perimeter, car parks and more

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Chartered Security Professional (CSyP) and certified technical security professional (CTSP)

Author Bio ▼

Peter is an expert in the physical security industry having spent 35 years gaining considerable knowledge and understanding of security technology and the principles and practices of protecting people and assets, along with the ethics necessary for leading a respected company. Over 20 years as MD of multi-award-winning security system integrator 2020 Vision Systems, the company achieved a high standard of recognition and the patronage of many respected organizations. Through his dedication and leadership, 2020 obtained industry approval with the SSAIB and Quality, Environmental, and Health and Safety accreditations.Peter is a member of the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB), a UKAS accredited Certification Body, and its representative on the British Standards Institute (BSI) technical committee responsible for drafting European CCTV Standards. He is also a member of the Security Institute and Security Leaders Technology forum and the author of a number of published security articles.
October 23, 2015


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The summer clothes are packed away, the holidays are over and children returned to school as the summer ends.

Now winter is approaching and the dark nights are drawing in it is a poignant time to revisit the subject of lighting for security purposes.

The primary lighting types for security purposes are high pressure sodium (SON), metal halide, quartz halogen and infra-red (IR) or non- visible lighting.

Due to significant advances in light Emitting Diode LED lighting technology, they are becoming popular in both security and general lighting applications, while standard incandescent bulbs are being phased out in favour of more energy efficient, devices such as compact fluorescent, LED or Halogen filled Incandescent.

With the exception of IR lighting, covert or discrete – which is reserved exclusively for use with CCTV systems – lighting with a high Colour Rendition Index CRI is generally preferred for security applications as it makes make the illuminated scenes look more normal.

CPNI (2009) suggests security lighting for the following applications:

  1. perimeter
  2. Glare
  3. Area
  4. Asset
  5. Event activated – detection device or human
  6. Entrance and checkpoint
  7. Guardhouse/gatehouse
  8. Displacement

IR lighting is reserved exclusively for use with CCTV.

Security is optimised when applications are mixed to complement each other, as each scheme has pros and cons that need consideration as part of an operational requirement.

In other words, what is the objective of implementing the security lighting? What do we want to achieve?

The attributes of each lighting type also need careful appraisal for suitability to an application. According to CPNI (2009), several factors influence the choice, such as:

  • Area requiring coverage
  • Lighting levels
  • Purchase cost
  • Running or operational cost
  • Lamp life expectancy
  • Start-up time to full brightness and restart time
  • Colour rendition – the ability to produce accurate colours
  • Light output
  • Reflectiveness of surrounding surfaces
  • Maintenance considerations

The other factors to consider include light pollution; creating shadows or dark areas, which could provide concealment for intruders; uniformity of light levels, avoiding low illumination areas that assist miscreants whilst inhibiting security response teams.

Fennelly JL, (2013) recommended ‘foot candle’ lighting levels for given security applications, which have been converted into the following lux figures:

Arealux level
Vehicle entrance100
Pedestrian entrance50
Open yards2.5
Decks on open piers2-50
Car parks2-20
Loading docks160

When applying security lighting schemes, normally 100 watt High Pressure Sodium (SON) is used for perimeter lighting and car parks, they may also provide both an operational and security use when deployed as general site lighting. SONs provide a reasonable colour rendition although biased towards yellow, and when correctly sited they provide realistic uniform illumination.

SONs are energy efficient, characteristically 100 lumens per watt, long life expectancy 20,000 plus hours, and provide quality illumination even in fog. They are ideal for dawn to dusk application as their slow strike time, to reach full brightness, prevents their use in event driven applications.

Ideally, in perimeter lighting applications they should be mounted on columns placed two metres within the fence line to negate their use as a scaling aid. Moreover, siting needs to avoid shadows and illuminate the ground outside the fence evenly at a minimum of 3 lux.

In perimeter and general lighting applications, a mounting height of 10 metres allows the use of a variety of luminaires in an energy efficient manner

Glare lighting provides an alternative around a perimeter due to its high deterrence factor and its effect of concealing security personnel on patrol, whilst affording them the advantage of observing intruders.

However, to optimise the effect fittings must be close spaced due to the small angle of illumination making them costly to deploy. There is also an issue with light pollution.

Seventy watt SON’s are suitable for general ‘dusk to dawn’ asset lighting sited to light vertical surfaces of areas of a building of interest. Asset lighting may be supplemented with displacement lighting, as many experts believe providing areas of low-level illumination will attract intruders away for well light and therefore vulnerable areas.

Entrance and check point lighting generally utilises metal halide, which emulates daylight making it particularly suitable for recognition and inspection of people, vehicles or objects. However, Metal Halide is expensive to install and maintain it also has a slow strike time.

Alternatively, quartz or tungsten halogen lights may be utilised, particularly when detector activated or event driven as they both provide instant light, although quartz is approximately 25% more efficient. Both types have a high Colour Rendition Index CRI, providing excellent colour rendition and white light quality.

With respect to gatehouses and guardrooms, the prerequisite is for security personnel to be able to work efficiently and see out, without assailants seeing in.

Low Pressure Sodium rarely features as security lighting due to its low CRI or poor light quality, which gives off a noticeable yellow tint and makes colour unrecognisable. However, this type of lighting can be useful in foggy conditions, although it is expensive to maintain.

Fluorescent lamps are typically reserved for internal use only. Due to their sensitivity to cold weather and poor light projection and are not generally recommended for security applications.

Mercury Vapour is usually reserved for use in street lighting. Although Mercury Vapour provides long life, approximately 20,000 hours, gives good colour rendition and is low cost to install and maintain, it is inefficient at 30 to 65 watt per lumens. It also suffers from a delayed hot start, takes time to achieve full brightness.

As stated earlier IR lighting is used exclusively in CCTV to provide illumination for video cameras which is invisible to the human eye. IR comes in two frequencies 900nm covert and 720nm discrete, giving off a slight red glow from the lamp.  Both types are expensive to operate typically running at 500 watts.

However, there is a growing market in LED lighting for both CCTV and general lighting use. LED’ are expensive to purchase and produce similar light to fluorescents, but they very efficient, long lasting and quick start.

When specifying lighting BS5489:2003 and EU Standard CEN/TR 13201 provide guidance for the recommended standard of lighting for different environments. In addition, in the UK lighting must comply with Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 and must not have an adverse effect on neighbouring properties.

In summary lighting should be fit for purpose and meet the operational requirement. Where security lighting operates from dusk to dawn energy efficient and long lasting options should be specified. Conversely, where lighting is event driven or detector activated fittings with a fast start to full intensity are needed.

Research sources and further reading


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Mini LED Lights
Mini LED Lights
September 24, 2018 9:41 am

Choosing the right Lights for your car is really important While driving car in winters…Thanks for sharing information with us…

November 8, 2018 11:13 am

For perimeter security fence lighting for cameras which orientation of lantern is good. one with lanterns facing perpendicular to the fence or along the fence line? the minimum lux level mentioned is 5 Lux. Whats the standard distance from the fence this 5 Lux should cover?