Trends Bonus Article: Effective Exterior Surveillance

By Amy Milshtein
from the July/August 2015 issue


When it comes to preventing crime, lighting and security cameras work hand in hand. Exterior illumination makes a building’s entry points and grounds look and feel safe while surveillance cameras add another layer of security. Their very presence deters criminals and, in the case of an incident, cameras provide valuable, actionable evidence. Getting these two technologies working together, however, takes a bit of finesse.

For instance, more can be too much when it comes to lighting for surveillance cameras. Bright outdoor spotlighting, like what may be found in a parking lot, could bleed into a surveillance camera’s image. “It creates a hot spot in the scene,” explains Jason Spielfogel, director of product management at Pelco by Schneider Electric.

Spielfogel advises inspecting the innate lighting already on the premises to ensure they work with the existing system. The goal is even illumination with no shadows and nothing pointing directly at a camera. While checking the lighting, Spielfogel also suggests checking the landscaping and remembering the season. “When trees are in leaf they could block an image or create shadows,” he says.

Along with position and possible obstructions, color should also be considered when assessing innate lighting. “Older lighting technologies like sodium halide add coloration to the images when viewed over closed circuit television,” says George Blackwell, director board of change at Pelco by Schneider Electric.

Landscaping and other elements are sometimes overlooked when planning exterior security. When trees are in leaf, for instance, foliage could block an image or create shadows. (Photo: Pelco By Schneider Electric)

This can cause a problem when identifying someone after an incident and trying to use that surveillance footage in court. “You’re building a chain of evidence,” explains Robert J. Lomb, Jr., CPP, PSP, RCDD, BSCP, associate with Syska Hennessy Group. “If someone’s shirt is changing color as they move from one lighting fixture to another, it could be a problem.”

To combat this Lomb suggests using white LED lights—the whiter the better. “Architects will sometimes specify colored lights for mood or effect but I prefer very white LEDs,” he says.

LEDs have other benefits as well. They last a long time, cutting back on staff hours needing to replace them. They also use considerably less electricity than other options. “High pressure sodium lights consume tons of energy even when they’re off because the ballast is always running,” says Jack Sullivan, director of security products at Cast Lighting LLC.

Lighting technology isn’t the only thing changing. Cameras are also advancing with pixels getting smaller and smaller. The promise is clearer resolution and a sharper image, but smaller pixels can cause unexpected problems. “I’ve seen it many times,” says Blackwell. “A customer replaces an old, large pixel, analog system with a new, small megapixel system and is disappointed to find the images are worse than before.”

Turns out smaller pixel cameras need more light to capture the same quality of images as their large pixel predecessors. Boosting the light level may fix the issue, but if the camera is pointed at an area where more light is inappropriate, the older, large pixel hardware may be a better solution.

Sometimes no light at all is the only option. There are many reasons why an organization may want to keep its facility in the dark. The first is just to be a good neighbor. “Everyone wants to be Dark Sky compliant,” says Sullivan. He’s referencing a designation given to outdoor lighting fixtures that meet the International Dark Sky Association’s requirements. The protocol reduces light pollution and trespass. The darker skies benefit nocturnal wildlife and amateur astronomers while saving energy.

But there are other, stealthier, motives for not lighting a building. Sometimes an organization doesn’t want to attract attention to its assets; for instance, a sensitive government facility may not want to broadcast its location. Or it might be a large, unattractive manufacturing plant right next to a suburban neighborhood. “You could have the largest processing plant in the world, and if it’s not lit up no one knows where it is” says Lomb. “Sometimes darkness is your best friend.”

Infrared (IR) cameras can “see” in the dark and protect these assets by picking up reflected infrared light. Not to be confused with Forward Looking Infrared Radiometer (FLIR) technology, which detects the IR emitted by warm people or objects, IR security cameras detect the light reflected by an external source. The IR arrays can either be embedded into the camera directly or mounted externally.

“Architects don’t like external IR floods because they’re ugly,” admits Lomb. He also cautions that images captured by an IR camera will be in black and white.

Consideration of how security cameras and lighting will interact in a darkened setting helps to maximize the effectiveness of the equipment chosen for a site. (Photo:

But before researching and investing in camera and lighting options, security experts recommend assessing the organization’s needs—by thinking like a thief. “Criminals are constantly doing risk assessments,” says Sullivan. A retired state police officer Sullivan recommends weighing the risk of a loss against the cost of a camera and lighting system.

As an example he points to a client that owns 10 lumber yards. A criminal broke into several of them and stole the tires from various trucks. While replacing the tires is an expense and a headache it was not nearly as costly as the down time the operation suffered by not having working vehicles. “The owner chose to augment their cameras and put more lighting on their fence line,” Sullivan says.

Some large organizations have a well-designed security protocol in place, and it may seem easy to simply defer to it. Lomb suggests taking individual locations and situations into account and not just getting lost in the protocol. “I have a utility client that laid out a very comprehensive security procedure for all of its buildings. It included anti-personnel fencing and 16 cameras on the exterior fence line,” he says. “But the facility I was consulting with was in a remote location in Alaska, 50 miles from the nearest inhabited town.” [For more on planning multi-site security, see “Multi-Site Security” on page 24.]

Meanwhile, Spielfogel cautions against being sold lighting overkill. “I was adding additional cameras to the loading dock of a feed storage warehouse and noticed they had IR cameras with internal arrays,” he recalls. “They also had flood lighting controlled by a motion detector. You don’t need both.” In evaluating security equipment and scenarios, facility executives maximize impact when considering the impact of lighting on surveillance cameras.

exterior-surveillanceBased in Portland, OR, Milshtein has covered design and facility management for over 20 years. She has won a ASBPE Regional Silver award for a feature and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University.