Oct 1, 2002 12:00 PM

Lighting ! or lack thereof ! can be a decisive issue in personal injury lawsuits involving a crime. In one Missouri case for example, the court held that an owner's failure to maintain lighting in an apartment house parking lot supported a verdict in favor of a plaintiff who had suffered an assault.

"Over the years, there have been a number of cases involving lighting in parking lots where there has been an award," says Lessing Gold, a partner with Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp LLP. "There was a case a couple of years ago in a hotel, where a young woman had checked in and was walking to her room. She was accosted and raped. The court found that the hotel was responsible, because of inadequate lighting, and ordered damages.

"Obviously, if a supermarket, for example, is open at night, there has to be lighting in the parking lot or parking structure. But normally, the issues go beyond lighting and involve security officers and closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras."

An analysis of the role lighting might play in a legal action begins with the question of what duty a landlord may owe a tenant or a visitor. An owner must assume some level of responsibility for safety based on a "totality of circumstances," including the foreseeability of crime and prior criminal acts in a facility or area.

"For example, if the lighting is low, but there has been no crime for some number of years, then the lighting may be considered adequate," says Gold.

A poor lighting design may contribute to a legal case developed to show an owner's negligence, but a good lighting design will not likely become an issue, unless the lights weren't working.

One of the most important judgments involving a security system's lighting design is the comfort-level of people using the particular facility. Richard D. Maurer, a senior associate with the Security Services Group of Kroll, Inc., New York, begins his analysis of lighting designs by asking people how comfortable they feel.

"In our society we feel more comfortable in well lighted places," Maurer says. "This is related to a psychological concept called warning-flight. People want to see a risky situation well in advance, so they can flee if necessary."

Maurer recently conducted a lighting study for a university that had just completed construction of a new administrative building and a parking lot that incorporated pole lights in its design. Maurer found the parking lot lighting met national standards, but he wasn't quite satisfied. He decided to continue his research ! interviewing people using the new university building and parking lot. They responded enthusiastically about the building, but reported feeling ill at ease when walking to the parking lot, despite lighting levels that met national guidelines.

Maurer returned to the parking lot for another look and found a problem. "The lot had no ambient lighting around the perimeter," he says. "The only thing lighted was the lot itself. You couldn't see into the open fields surrounding the lot. Employees were uncomfortable using the parking lot at night, because they couldn't tell whether or not there was danger lurking in the adjacent fields."

On Maurer's recommendation, the university positioned small floodlights on the existing lighting poles, directing the light out into the field. Subsequent interviews revealed that the employees now felt comfortable.

Another client, a bank, asked Maurer to evaluate its automated teller machine (ATM) network. Specifically, certain ATMs were receiving little use.

Maurer found that the under-used ATMs suffered from the same kind of lighting problem as the university parking lot. "The bank had lighted the ATMs as well as possible," he says. "But all the lights shined on the ATMs. When you stood in the alcove, you could not see anything beyond [that] area."

Redirecting some light toward the sidewalk and the surrounding area enabled people to check out their environment and feel more comfortable using the ATM. The lighting change produced an increase in activity at the ATMs in question. "Comfort is one way to evaluate lighting in terms of security," Maurer says.

Maurer also notes that good lighting makes people with bad intentions feel unsafe. "My team consults on lighting for the Department of Housing and Urban Development," says Maurer. "We often find that we can remove drug traffickers from a property simply by making the lighting brighter."

Maurer and other security consultants recommend beginning a lighting design by researching published lighting standards for various installations. "The most important publication is the Standard Guide by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America," Maurer says. "It recommends appropriate lighting levels for just about everything, from parking lots to ATMs to cutting diamonds."

Other reference sources include the Department of Army Field Manual 19-30 and a Protection of Assets Manual and POA Bulletin published by Merritt.

These references suggest foot-candles ! the light reflecting back to a camera ! of lighting intensity for various installations. According to Maurer, a moderately busy parking lot might require a minimum of 1 foot-candle, while a parking-deck should probably have more light, a minimum of 5 foot-candles. A heavily used sidewalk might need 3 foot-candles of light from point-to-point.

It's important to note that these standards relate to engineering and safety issues, not legal standards.

Qualified research into the contribution of lighting to security, however, can be hard to find. "I have never seen any research studies or data defining the effect of lighting on levels of crime," says Ken Braunstein, president of Forensic Science Consultants, Reno, Nev. "There is literature that suggests a connection, but no studies. I think that lighting does help. For example, I think a well-lighted area monitored by CCTV can deter crime in that area. But I've seen no research that confirms this."

Lighting security experts also note that published lighting standards do not necessarily accommodate exterior CCTV systems. Maurer, for example, teaches a lighting class for ASIS International that addresses this issue. "Today's cameras come with specifications about how the camera will see at a fraction of a foot-candle," Maurer says. "But you have to remember that this specification refers to the light reflecting back to the camera, not the light striking the surface of, say, a parking lot.

"Suppose you meter a parking lot and find that the lighting level is 1.0 foot-candle," he continues. "That's the level of light that the average person senses. The camera, however, is not seeing a 1.0 foot-candle. When light hits black asphalt, it loses 85 percent of its illumination. In addition, the 15 percent of light reflected by the asphalt loses an f-stop of intensity for every 50 feet it travels."

Since the light level at the camera itself is what matters, a CCTV application may require more foot-candles of light than published recommendations.

Maurer points out that camera lenses also affect the equation. "The camera specification has nothing to do with the lens," he says. "You may want to use a telephoto lens to let you read the license plates on cars across a parking lot. In this case, the only light reaching the camera is the light from the little area you're trying to look at. Add to this the fact the long telephoto lens eats light, so you have to check the specifications of the lens as to how it will change the basic capabilities of the camera."

In many cases, Maurer will recommend a wide-angle lens, which won't allow a camera to read license plates, but will collect light from a wide area and perhaps provide a clearer image.

While no system can guarantee security, lighting can enhance the effectiveness of a security system ! making people feel comfortable, meeting minimum published standards and accommodating the lighting requirements of CCTV security technology.

Michael Fickes is a Cockeysville, Md.-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

  • Looking for faces in the Super Bowl crowd
  • Why do the entry doors to most homes open inward, while in most public buildings, the entr
  • JVC JX-S777 Audio/Video Switcher
  • Adjustable Angle Discreet Smoke Detector Camera
  • Hidden Camera Video Recorder w/700ft. 2.4GHz Transmitter & Receiver
  • Suit of Armor
  • CMOS Black & White Dome Camera
  • Symbol of security
  • Optex Outdoor Motion Detector
  • Chevron aims for worldwide single-card access
  • Home Security Camera Background