Lighten Up!

In the aftermath of recent school tragedies across the country, many administrators have re-evaluated their crisis management plans and conducted a physical audit of their systems to determine appropriate safety precautions for their facility. These considerations often include a telephone and alarm system, access control, crisis response and an evacuation plan. Sometimes overlooked is the need for increased lighting, which is necessary to provide a sense of safety and security any time of the day or night.

Providing a sense of security around the facility is critical to school lighting. After dusk, accidents and incidents of crime increase. To protect property from theft and vandalism, provide a safer environment for people and reduce overall liability, administrators are becoming more aware of the benefits of properly designed security lighting.

An Illuminating Plan

“Providing a safe, secure environment is our number one priority right now,” says Kim Wilson, electrical planner for Clark County Schools in Nevada. “When some of these schools were built 30 years ago, we didn’t have these same types of security issues. We are one of the fastest growing counties in the nation and we can’t build the schools fast enough to accommodate the increased population. The older buildings are being retrofitted with better lighting systems, and the new buildings are planned with vandal-resistance in mind,” she continues.

Clark County has seen a definite increase in preventive security measures in the past few years. With more than 200 elementary and middle schools and 25 high schools in the county, ranging from rural to urban neighborhoods, Wilson points to better lighting as one of the main reasons theft and vandalism have declined.

“Since we’ve improved both the indoor and outdoor lighting in the schools, it seems to have reduced the number of times we have to replace broken fixtures, lamps and lenses. Our school police can also see better to monitor those inconspicuous areas where the kids used to hang out,” Wilson explains.

Clark County Schools, among other schools across the country, have opted for vandal-resistant lighting fixtures to provide the much-needed security required while providing adequate lighting to the area. These products are built to withstand both physical abuse and environmental extremes. They are typically constructed of heavier-gauge steel or diecast aluminum housings, UV-stabilized polycarbonate lenses, gasketing to absorb impact shock and keep contaminants out of the fixture, and tamper-resistant fasteners.

Vandal-resistant lighting fixtures are built for strength and enclosure, and are ideal for unsupervised areas, including exterior walkways, classrooms, restrooms, locker rooms, parking lots and stairwells. These fixtures are typically UL Listed for wet locations, enabling them to be used either inside or outside.

Another benefit of security lighting is that it improves visibility on steps, walkways and at exits, dramatically reducing the rate of accidents. “We used recessed fixtures with Metal Halide lamps in the locker rooms and halls and under the canopies at the front entrances of the schools. Metal Halide provided enough light to properly illuminate those areas where students gather,” says Wilson.

Be Location-Specific

It is important to provide the proper levels of illumination for each specific location and ensure a uniform distribution of light throughout the area. The absolute minimum level of illumination for public safety recommended by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America is 0.2 footcandles. A footcandle (Fc) represents the amount of lumens falling on an area expressed in square feet. One lumen falling on a surface of one square foot produces one footcandle.

At more sensitive areas, such as building entrances, higher levels should be used to prevent break-ins. The IESNA recommends average maintained illumination levels in confined spaces at 0.5 Fc, and 1.0 Fc at entrances. Wallpacks or floodlights provide adequate lighting over or next to the door. They are available in several different lamp sources, including compact fluorescent lamps that are more energy-efficient, cost effective and provide lumen output equal to some lower-wattage HID sources.

Where parking areas are adjacent to building walls, the parking space can be illuminated from the roof of the building using floodlights or wall-mounted luminaires. Light fixtures are also mounted on top of poles, located around the perimeter of the parking lot with additional poles in the interior to provide uniform lighting throughout the lot. When using poles for area lighting, cutoff fixtures are recommended. Typical mounting heights might be 20 ft. for smaller lots, up to 40 ft. for larger parking areas. In most cases, these luminaires would be used with either Metal Halide or high-pressure sodium lamps for maximum light output. Steps should be taken to avoid light trespass (light spill and glare) to neighboring properties.

Balance, Common Sense Are Key

The key to proper illumination is finding the balance of the lighting level for a specific application. Too often people assume that more light will mean a safer surrounding. However, too much light can also cause a loss of visibility. If there’s too much light in an area, it can cause a glare which creates a silhouette effect. Vertical surfaces should be illuminated (hallways with protruding lockers or water fountains, or exterior landscaping) so these surfaces reflect light onto people. The light levels should be comfortable, with minimal glare. When balanced lighting is achieved, people can be identified quickly and easily, even at a distance.

If surveillance (motion detectors, cameras or even security guards) is used for identification purposes, the lighting must allow for a clear view for the observer. Again, vertical surfaces should be better illuminated. Exterior landscaping should be pruned and maintained so it doesn’t block the view of these devices, and so more light reaches the pathway. Floodlights are ideal for exterior applications if mounted on buildings or poles at a height of 30 feet to achieve uniform illumination, and recessed or surface-mounted linear fluorescent fixtures are ideal for hallways.

Security lighting is an investment in the future of our schools, the kids who attend and the staff who teach there. Effective lighting can prevent the high expense and liability of theft and vandalism. A properly designed, installed and maintained lighting system will pay for itself; the peace of mind of a safe learning environment means money well spent for all involved.

Colette Fleming is the Senior Market Development Specialist for the Rough Service product group of Lithonia Lighting. She can be reached at 770/922-9000 or .