In the field of physical security, security lighting is lighting that intended to deter or detect intrusions or other criminal activity occurring on a property or site. It can also be used to increase a feeling of safety. Lighting is integral to crime prevention through environmental design. A 2019 study in New York City found that the provision of street lights, an important type of security lighting, resulted in a "36 percent reduction in nighttime outdoor index crimes."[1]

Planning considerations

Security lighting to prevent intrusions may be counter-productive. Turning off lights halved the number of thefts and burglary in Övertorneå Sweden. [2][3] A test in West Sussex UK showed that adding all-night lighting in some areas made people there feel safer, although crime rates increased 55% in those areas compared to control areas and to the county as a whole.[4]

In the early seventies, the public-school system in San Antonio, Texas, began leaving many of its school buildings, parking lots, and other property dark at night and found that the no-lights policy not only reduced energy costs but also dramatically cut vandalism.[5]

Bright, unshielded floodlights often prevent people from noticing criminal activity, and help criminals see what they are doing.[6]

While adequate lighting around a physical structure is deployed to reduce the risk of an intrusion, it is critical that the lighting be designed carefully as poorly arranged lighting can create glare which actually obstructs vision. Studies[citation needed] have shown that many criminals are aware of this effect and actively exploit it. The optimal design will also depend on whether the area will be watched directly by humans or by closed-circuit television, and on the location of the observers or cameras.

Security lighting may be subject to vandalism, possibly to reduce its effectiveness for a subsequent intrusion attempt. Thus security lights should either be mounted very high, or else protected by wire mesh or tough polycarbonate shields. Other lamps may be completely recessed from view and access, with the light directed out through a light pipe or reflected from a polished aluminium or stainless steel mirror. For similar reasons high security installations may provide a stand-by power supply for their security lighting.

Some typical considerations include:


A sodium vapor light. This type is often used as security lighting.

Security lighting can be used in residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, and military settings. Some examples of security lighting include floodlights and low pressure sodium vapour lights. Most lights intended to be left on all night are high-intensity discharge lamps as these have good energy efficiency, thus reducing the cost of running a lamp for such long periods.

A disadvantage of low pressure sodium lamps is that the colour is pure yellow, so the illuminated scene is seen without any colour differentiation. Consequently, high pressure sodium vapour lamps (which are still yellowish, but closer to golden white) are also used, at the cost of greater running expenses and increased light pollution. High pressure sodium lamps also take slightly longer to restrike after a power interruption.

LED-based security lighting is becoming increasingly popular, due to its low electrical consumption (compared to non-LED lighting technologies), long lifespan, and options for different color spectrum ranges.[7]

Other lights may be activated by sensors such as passive infrared sensors (PIRs), turning on only when a person (or other mammal) approaches. PIR sensor activation can increase both the deterrent effect (since the intruder knows that he has been detected) and the detection effect (since a person will be attracted to the sudden increase in light). Some PIR units can be set up to sound a chime as well as turn on the light. Most modern units have a photocell so that they only turn on when it is dark.

To reduce light pollution, the International Dark-Sky Association recommends the use of downward-facing security lights that preserve and protect the night time environment.

During the South African energy crisis increased rates of metal theft, house breaking and robberies were reported in areas effected by the loss of security lighting due to a loss of electricity in some urban areas.


U.S. NRC, 10 CFR 73.55(i)(6) Illumination

For nuclear power plants in the United States (U.S.), per the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), 10 CFR Part 73, [security] lighting is mentioned four (4) times. The most notable mentioning contained in 10 CFR 73.55(i)(6) Illumination, which clearly identifies that licensees "-shall provide a minimum illumination level of 0.2 foot-candles, measured horizontally at ground level, in the isolation zones and appropriate exterior areas within the protected area-". [Ref] This is also the minimum illumination level specified in Table H–2 Minimum Night Firing Criteria of 10 CFR 73 Appendix H, for night firing. Per 10 CFR 73.46(b)(7) "-Tactical Response Team members, armed response personnel, and guards shall qualify and requalify, at least every 12 months, for day and night firing with assigned weapons in accordance with Appendix H-"; therefore on said respective shooting range [at night] per Appendix H, Table H-2, "-all courses [shall have] 0.2 foot-candles at center mass of target area-" applicable to handguns, shotguns, and rifles. [Ref] Note that 1 foot-candle is approximately 10.76 lux, therefore the minimum illumination requirements for the above sections also reflect 2.152 lux.


An important limitation to the usefulness of security lighting is the simple fact that it is only useful at night. This is particularly significant for home owners because, contrary to a widespread myth, most household burglaries occur during the day,[2][13][14] when the occupants are away at work or shopping.

As with any lighting, security lighting can reduce night vision, making it harder to see into areas that are unlit or are in shadow. Non-uniform illumination may also interfere with surveillance systems, as the wide dynamic range of security cameras may have difficulty adjusting to the changes in light intensity.

See also


  1. ^ Chalfin, Aaron; Hansen, Benjamin; Lerner, Jason; Parker, Lucie (24 April 2019). "Reducing Crime Through Environmental Design: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment of Street Lighting in New York City" (PDF). Crime Labs: University of Chicago. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Outdoor Lighting and Crime, Part 2" by Barry Clark 2003, p. 18 and Figure 5
  3. ^ "Svenska Dagbladet": "Halverad brottslighet i mörk kommun" (Halved crime in the dark city.) 2007 (The number of thefts and burglaries have halved in Övertorneå since the city was dark in the fall because of the nationwide family dispute with Ekfors Kraft. We thought it would be the opposite, says Sören Mukkavaara, police constable in Övertorneå.)
  4. ^ "Light and Crime"
  5. ^ Schneier on Security "Light and Crime"
  6. ^ "The Dark Side: Making war on light pollution" by David Owen 2007
  7. ^ Li, Yuanqiang; Romanelli, Michael; Tian, Yongchi (2012). "Carbidonitride- and oxycarbidonitride-based phosphors for LED lighting devices". Proceedings of SPIE. SPIE. doi:10.1117/12.906847. S2CID 123656151. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Payne, Suné (2022-07-06). "POWER CUTS: Criminals are enjoying load shedding, say Cape Town communities affected by crime". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  9. ^ "'Opportunistic' criminals are taking advantage of load shedding - WC CPF". CapeTalk. Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  10. ^ Pillay, Yogashen. "Load shedding gives criminals the upper hand and cripples the economy". Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  11. ^ Staff Writer. "How criminals are taking advantage of increased load shedding in South Africa". Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  12. ^ "Criminals are using power blackouts to their advantage: ISS". SABC News. 2021-11-09. Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  13. ^ "Sourcebook of criminal justice statistics Online": "Percent distribution of burglaries known to police. By place and time of occurrence, United States, 1976-2007"
  14. ^ "Lighting & Crime" Archived 2009-06-03 at the Wayback Machine from the British Astronomical Association's Campaign for Dark Skies