In 2012, GuideOne, one of our church carriers, had 11 fire claims that were determined to be caused by arson. The damage related to these crimes tend to be very significant, with the average loss totaling over $368,000. Churches are particularly vulnerable to arson because the buildings are often unoccupied, activity schedules are predictable, and security systems are often lacking. Churches also may be targeted because of their beliefs.
To help reduce its risk of arson, your church can consider the following precautionary measures:
- Keep doors and windows locked when the building is unoccupied.
- Keep the property free from trash and other potentially combustible debris.
- Illuminate exterior buildings, doors and parking lots from sunset to sunrise.
- Install motion-activated lighting near the doors and windows.
- Trim shrubs and trees around window and doors to eliminate potential hiding places for arsonists.
- Use wire-mesh glass in window to help protect the building from break-ins.
- Store ladders and tools in secure area, not outside the building.
- Install video security cameras at entrances and other key areas.
- Use timers on interior entry lights overnight.
- Store flammable liquids in a locked closet or cabinet away from any heat sources, such as heating or air conditioning equipment.
- Install a fire detection system and/or automatic sprinkler system. Have both monitored by a central station.
- Maintain inspection programs to ensure smoke and heat detectors are operational and fire extinguishers are in place and regularly serviced.
- Restrict access to areas containing valuable or combustible materials by locking interior doors.
- Ask neighbors to alert police if anything suspicious is seen on church property.
- Invite local law enforcement to patrol the property during the overnight hours.
- Establish a “Church Watch” program in which members volunteer to drive through the property at various times throughout the week.
The greatest loss from arson may not even be the financial or structural. The traditional gathering place of a congregation, the site of its sacred rituals, and the home of treasured memories, possibly for generations, may be lost forever from a fire due to arson. By following these guidelines, your church reduces its chances of suffering such tragic and painful losses.