Spot the Intruder: Why security lighting makes all the difference

CCTV camera with lighting

Good lighting means it’s easier to see things – of course. However, you may be surprised to find out exactly how big a difference effective security lighting can make.

Don’t be mistaken into thinking that we mean security lighting is the be all and end all of security measures. It’s actually often a poor deterrent to criminals, as this blog post on external lighting explains: much better deterrents include clearly signposted CCTV, weighty and difficult to access doors and windows and an intruder alarm. Of course, lighting has benefits beyond deterring intruders – it provides safe entry for homeowners, better road conditions, reassurance and it helps with navigation.

But we’re talking about security lighting.

Debates over whether or not Britain should turn off its streetlights during the night have exemplified the debate: Does better lighting deter criminals, or actually help them spot their targets? This article in the Bristol Post starts with the bold statement: “Police in the Bristol area have made a startling discovery – burglars are scared of the dark.”

In fact that statement raises an interesting point. A lot of security lighting and security cameras are now equipped with infrared (IR) lighting. It is vitally important in the prevention of many crimes because IR lighting is barely visible to the naked eye – except a faint glow directly in front of the IR emitter.

This means the intruder is left in the dark – and there’s no light pollution to neighbours or distraction to nearby drivers. The security cameras, however, are sensitive to IR and the result is ‘night vision’ when footage is viewed via the camera.

White light – what we would expect to see emitting from a security light – is visible to the naked eye, illuminating sites to the advantage of intruders in many cases.

Indeed it seems to make sense that a well-lit area is easier to break in to. An intruder can easily identify weak spots and targets when they’re brightly lit. However…

Security lighting is essential when it is used in conjunction with other security measures.

When used in conjunction with CCTV, lighting becomes a powerful tool for security operators to quickly identify and act upon illegal or dangerous activity. Especially when that security lighting is IR.

Without security lighting, CCTV during nighttime hours becomes a tricky game of “spot the intruder”. In fact, we’ve taken a snap shot from one of the security cameras we monitor, which has particularly poor security lighting. See if you, at a second’s glance, can spot the intruder:

Bad security lighting

So, yes, the intruder is in the top left hand corner. But imagine how quickly that intruder may have moved – it is only a second that their shadow would have been visible in the tiny bit of light showing. It’s a remarkable testament to the skills of our operators that they managed to rapidly spot the intruder and act upon it!

Bad security lighting - reveal

From there on in, if the intruder dodges into the darkness again, you can imagine how it quickly becomes a guessing game for the operator: has the intruder left? Are they simply hiding? Have they managed to enter the building?

Without security lighting we’re literally left in the dark – and so will be the security of a site.

As the daylight hours get shorter in winter, security lighting needs to be made a priority.

As we edge into the cold, dark, months of winter CCTV monitoring stations are increasingly dependent on good security lighting to allow them to do their jobs effectively, which simply is providing peace of mind to site and home owners.

Here are a few tips on making sure your security lighting is up to scratch in winter:

  • Change the timing on your security lighting to correspond with the clocks going back.
  • Remember that the days can almost be as dingy as the nights in the depths of winter. If it’s a particularly rainy and dark, does your site need lighting during the day too?
  • Heed warnings from your CCTV and alarm monitoring station, if they say the lighting is poor – then it most likely is!
  • Check all your lights are in working order: clean, bulbs in tack and so on. Get in touch with your maintenance team if they’re not.
  • Check the placement of cameras. Again this may be a job for your security integrator, but it may be worth reconsidering where your lights are placed and if they cause bad shadowing or miss crucial areas. Think about potential access points and high-risk areas – if your CCTV camera is monitoring that spot, is it well lit?
  • Consider IR security lighting, in conjunction with the right cameras. This way you’ll be benefitting from intruders being in the dark AND your remote monitoring station having a lucidly clear image.

On a more year-round basis, it really is worth investing in your security lighting as a means of supporting CCTV systems.

Raytec (providers of LED lighting for security and safety) have just released a great feature on their website, called RaytecVille, which really highlights exactly where security lighting can make a big difference – especially when it’s high quality.

In fact, the Raytec example is a great one. LED lighting for security is also at the cutting edge of the industry, meaning it’s an option that provides the best possible illumination.

You can clearly see the results good security lighting has. The individuals in these snapshots are easily spotted, making it much simpler for us to issue a warning via the security systems speakerphone telling the intruders they must leave the site. Ultimately, if the intruder does not leave the site after the warning the good lighting will allow us to track their movements until the police arrive:

Good security lighting

What is your experience of security lighting? Are you a security installer who finds it difficult to predict the level of lighting needed? Or do you want to upgrade your security lighting, but you’re just not sure how much to invest? Leave me a comment below – I’d love to hear your thoughts!