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Shedding Light on University Security

When the Columbus campus of The Ohio State University began experiencing a rash of thefts, security staff was able to use CCTV images to solve the crime. The thieves were taking spare rear tires from the backs of SUVs parked in the university’s lots. The surveillance cameras captured the suspects in the act, yielding quality images that could be used to clearly identify the guilty individuals. This type of reliable identification was not possible before the illumination in the lots was improved to eliminate uneven lighting and dark spots, according to Director of Security and Fire Prevention Services Patrick Maughan.

That’s just one example of how correct lighting can play a critical role in campus security. When installing or upgrading lighting, the first consideration is the overall objective, including how the lighting will be integrated into the security program. Other factors to be considered are lighting levels, lighting type, and maintenance issues. It is also important to survey the lighting situation on campus periodically and to assess whether changes are needed.

Objectives. The first consideration in developing a lighting plan is for the security department to determine how lighting fits into and furthers the goals of the overall security program.

When outdoor lighting is properly integrated into a plan, it serves not only to further security’s goals but also to advertise them. The right outdoor lighting sends people the visible message that security is being addressed, says John Bullough, a lighting scientist with the Lighting Research Center, a university-based research center devoted to lighting.

For example, at Ohio State, which is in the process of upgrading its outdoor lighting, the goal is to achieve consistent light levels. Security was also mindful of integrating the lighting into the overall security program, which relies on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) principles to reduce opportunities for crime to occur anywhere on the university’s more than 1,700 acres.

More than 1,500 lights have been replaced and several thousand more lights will be upgraded before the project is complete. The replacement program has allowed security the opportunity to work with designers to further enhance their use of environmental design principles.

An example of this was when the lights along the main walkway between a busy off-campus street and the section of campus known as the Oval were replaced. (The Oval is the main path between off campus and the university library.) When the plans for upgrading outdoor lighting were being developed, the school decided to make the Oval brighter than the surrounding areas to encourage pedestrians to stay on this main path and also to instill a sense of safety.

Maughan says that with the new lighting, pedestrians “coming from the main off-campus area to the on-campus area are drawn to this graceful, well-lighted promenade.” And that makes it easier for security to keep an eye on them during patrols and remotely with CCTV.

The university also uses lighting to encourage ingress and egress through a central location. Although the building may have more than one accessible door, Maughan says one entrance is lit brighter than the others, making it obvious which is the main entrance. This type of lighting complements surveillance efforts by making it easier to identify suspicious activity, such as someone intentionally avoiding the main entrance.

As a university considers its outdoor lighting, however, it must remember that it is only one element of a well-rounded security program.

“Sometimes people rely too heavily on lighting on campus,” says E. Floyd Phelps, CPP, of Southern Methodist University. Frequent patrols are also important, as is teaching students to protect themselves and be aware, he notes.

Light levels. There are no government-mandated light levels for campuses, but there is a body of knowledge that universities can look to when trying to determine the appropriate lighting for any given location. One respected source is Guideline for Security Lighting for People, Property, and Public Spaces, by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA). The guideline, published in 2003, offers campus-specific guidance for outdoor and indoor lighting (though the indoor recommendations will not be discussed in this article).

According to IESNA, schools and institutions such as universities should maintain a minimum of 3 footcandles (the U.S. measurement of luminance; lux is the metric measurement) in all parking facilities. One footcandle should be maintained on sidewalks and footpaths.

The Lighting Research Center agrees with the IESNA recommendations. Its own research, which analyzed the effect of IESNA-recommended light levels with regard to how secure they made people feel, showed that 1 to 3 footcandles sufficed.

The research indicated that this level made people feel safe and that if more light was used, they did not feel more secure. In addition, these levels also make it possible to notice colors and features, notes Bullough. “There’s no sense in floodlighting an area much higher than that because it’s not going to help people see any better than they need to,” he says.

Bullough adds that the research included tests in a small town and in unsafe areas in New York City. Interestingly, the light level that made people feel safe was the same, whether the environment was urban or not; the 1 to 3 footcandle-level was sufficient in both cases.

Lighting consistency. Although maintaining a sufficient amount of light is important, maintaining lighting uniformity is also important. According to the IESNA guideline, “Uniformity in security lighting aids security perception, while reducing the necessity for eye adjustment when scanning or using the area.”

To give a sense of consistency across contiguous areas, Georgia Tech uses transitional lighting, which gradually raises or reduces light levels across areas. Transitioning gradually allows people to adjust to the new light level. “We don’t want people to go from a bright area to a dark area,” says Robert F. Lang, CPP, of the school’s police department.

IESNA recommends a uniformity ratio not greater than 4:1, average-to-minimum for parking facilities, sidewalks, and footpaths. That means that if the average footcandle measurement for an area is 4 footcandles, the level for any part of that area should never be less than one footcandle.

The height of the pole the fixture is attached to can also have an effect on the consistency of the lighting. IESNA says, “In general, the taller the poles, the fewer poles will be required for a given area, resulting in improved uniformity and less likelihood of vandalism to the luminaires.”

At Ohio State, a standard fixture is attached to black poles of various heights. The pole used depends on the surrounding area. For example, if the area has a lot of foliage, the pole is often placed below the tree line to prevent disruption of the light signal. In these areas, more lights may be required to retain the desired level of luminance. According to Maughan, it takes more of the new lights to cover an area, but “they cover more evenly.”

 For example, one parking lot on the west side of campus had 100-foot light poles before the upgrade. At that time, the intense light directly under each pole was “like a new car showroom,” says Maughan.

The lighting surrounding the area was dark by comparison, creating a visual hazard for CCTV cameras and pedestrians. “The actual lighting in those spots might be acceptable,” he says, “but it looked darker compared to the hot zone.”

The university now uses 30-foot poles in more locations, diffusing the dark spots. According to Maughan, “the lighting is now more evenly distributed and consistent.”

Light type. There are various options with regard to the type of light that can be used. Choices include metal halide, high-pressure sodium, standard incandescent filament, tungsten halogen, and fluorescent. The type of light chosen will affect how color is rendered—which affects how well witnesses can see the color of a fleeing suspect’s clothes or hair, for example.

Light color is measured using a color index (CRI) of 1 to 100, with 100 representing sunlight. The IESNA guideline recommends a CRI of 50 or higher. It can be achieved with a white or blue-white light source, such as metal halide. But that’s expensive.

The guideline notes that the more economical high-pressure sodium lamp can achieve acceptable color levels, though not quite the desired 50. High-pressure sodium lamps have a CRI of 22. According to the guideline, “High-pressure sodium lamps allow accurate, but less confident color naming at high illuminances used for public spaces, but both accuracy and confidence decline at lower illuminances.”

Maintaining good color recognition from high-pressure sodium lamps, Bullough says, can be achieved by using at least 3 footcandles of illumination.

“If you’re talking about very low light levels, then the differences between these lamps get larger and larger,” he says. “As you get to higher and higher light levels, then even though the high-pressure sodium never is as good as a metal halide…at a high enough level, when you’re talking about your basic, blue, red, green, brown, it’s going to do almost as well at being able to differentiate those colors.”

Universities may want to consider using both metal halide and high-pressure sodium lamps, says Jack F. Dowling, CPP, PSP, president and principal consultant at J.D. Security Consultants, LLC. For example, universities may want to consider installing metal halide lamps for use with CCTV cameras.

Color may not be as important in other areas monitored primarily by foot patrol and not CCTV, says Dowling. In those locations, universities may choose to use more affordable lamps such as high-pressure sodium. Dowling, who previously served as the director of safety and security at Philadelphia University, agrees with the IESNA guideline that high-pressure sodium lamps, used at proper levels, can be a very effective illuminant.

Georgia Tech’s Lang says the university has used both metal halide and high-pressure sodium lamps in various sites around campus. The university uses metal halide on exterior spaces such as canopies, covered walkways, and entrances, and in fixtures illuminating façades. High-pressure sodium lamps are used for lighting streets, sidewalks, parking areas, bikeways, and all other areas of campus.

Over the life of the lamps, the high-pressure sodium stacks up well against metal halide, says Donald P. Alexander, an engineer with GE Lighting’s Lighting Institute. Metal halide lamps retain only 70 percent of their illumination over their lifespan, Lang says, while high-pressure sodium lights maintain approximately 90 percent.

Not everyone condones the use of high-pressure sodium, however. While one of the characteristics of metal halide lamps is that the light output drops over time, “the big tradeoff is the color,” says Ric Barton, outdoor and industrial lighting specialist at GE Lighting’s Lighting Institute. According to Barton, a green car under high-pressure sodium will look black and a white car will look yellow.

According to Barton, other light sources can also be used to achieve the same quality as metal halide. Fluorescent lights with a CRI of 62 and standard incandescent filament lights with a CRI of 100 are options. Like metal halide, however, these sources are often expensive to purchase and maintain.

Although everyone agrees that higher-CRI lights produce better results, universities on fixed budgets have to choose based on available dollars. Lang says that he chose having a greater number of lights and being able to afford to always replace burned out lamps over true color.

It is important that the campus is “lit and that no bulbs are burned out,” he says, “because we do have transients, we have homeless, we do have crime, and we feel that lighting is a big deterrent.”

Fixtures. Choosing the proper fixture, according to Bullough, is another important consideration when devising a lighting program. He says this is often a challenge for universities, which are concerned with both aesthetics and function. 

IESNA recommends different styles for various applications. For example, post-top luminaires are recommended for use along walkways and residential parking areas. These luminaires can either be mounted to a wall or installed on poles up to 15 feet in height.

IESNA recommends architectural luminaires for roadways and parking lots where “daytime appearance and/or light pollution and trespass are important.” These lights are typically mounted to poles 15 feet or higher above the ground and are used instead of industrial or roadway luminaires, which are unattractive and are commonly found on streets and driveways.

Maintenance. Once installed, lights must be maintained. That means making sure that nothing blocks their view and that they remain in working order.

The IESNA guideline says that “A planned maintenance program should include immediate replacement of failed lamps, electrical components, photocells, and vandalized or damaged luminaires and involve regular cleaning of luminaires and shrubbery pruning.”

Because a light may burn out at any time and may not immediately be detected, the guideline also states, “A well-designed system should have overlapping light patterns so that no area is dependent on a single luminaire. Failed lamps, however, should be replaced immediately, in case a second lamp in the same area also fails.”

To keep lamps, such as metal halides, working properly and to reduce the need for rampant spot relamping, some experts recommend a preemptive process called “group relamping.” When lamps are maintained using group relamping, all lamps are replaced at the same time. That’s beneficial because spot relamping can be labor intensive, since staff may have to return often to one area to replace adjacent lamps as they burn out in succession.

While preventive maintenance like group relamping may be ideal, most universities do not have the time or resources necessary to replace large numbers of the lamps on campus at once. Most universities, however, find ways to ensure that dead lights are quickly noted and replaced.

All universities consulted for this article rely heavily on students and campus security officers to report outages. These are then turned over to maintenance for repair. At Southern Methodist, for example, officers on patrol regularly report lighting maintenance issues for repair; the university has added numbers to each light post for easy identification.

During Ohio State’s lighting improvement program, Maughan says creating a university luminaire standard had the added effect of reducing maintenance costs. Before the upgrade, several different types of lights were used. When a lamp burned out, it was often a time-consuming and laborious task to find the correct bulb and replace it.  

Light survey. Universities should consider performing a lighting survey at least twice a year, to make sure that lighting levels coincide with IESNA guidelines. The survey should also make note of overgrown trees and areas where lighting could be improved. The survey should be performed when the trees are in full bloom because foliage can affect the level of light, explains Dowling. Spring and summer are the seasons he typically chooses.

It is advisable to first review the campus in daylight, says Dowling, taking note of the lighting layout and positioning. The surveyor should then walk the campus at night and measure light levels using a light meter, he says. The night survey should be conducted when weather conditions are normal, not on bright moonlit nights or when it is stormy or cloudy, Dowling adds.

The security director can decide who should be involved in the survey. At Georgia Tech, security personnel work with representatives from maintenance and other key departments to evaluate proper lighting levels around the campus. At Southern Methodist, students, security personnel, and university staff walk the campus annually to assess lighting and look at areas for improvement. Police also look for burned out lights on nightly patrols and inform the maintenance department.

At the University of Cincinnati, an annual lighting survey is not performed, but if complaints have been made, officers promptly check an area with a light meter to determine whether it falls within the IESNA levels, says Karen Patterson, executive staff officer for the chief of police at the University of Cincinnati.

If the light level is below the IESNA recommendation, Patterson says, the department will make a recommendation to the university architect board, which is in charge of adding new lights to campus. The board was established to ensure that any new lighting additions fit with the overall university plan, which takes into account both safety and aesthetics.

If the light levels are within the IESNA guidelines, Patterson says, the security department will monitor the site to determine whether students feel unsafe for another reason, such as the presence of suspicious people.

Patterson also points out the importance of trimming shrubbery around the lights. In some cases when a student complained that light was insufficient, it was determined that the light was within the IESNA guidelines, but the shrubs surrounding the light were making the area appear dim to the student. Facilities trimmed the shrub and no other complaints were made.

The university has established a Night Walk program, where volunteers and police are available on request to escort students around campus at night. Students call the Night Walk number, and a representative from the program meets them at the desired location. Escorts are available for any area of campus and up to three blocks off campus.

While specific lighting standards are not mandated, good lighting is a critical component of a university’s protection program—and of its public image. Dowling says that in his 25 years of experience as a college safety professional, “lighting levels are usually the first security feature mentioned by students, faculty, staff, parents, and visitors.”

Dowling advises universities to review the IESNA guidelines and consider implementing them on campus. Universities that remain in the dark about the importance of lighting risk being sued for negligence should an incident occur. 

Marta Roberts is staff editor for Security Management.