Arson in and around churches and religious organizations is alarming, and unfortunately it’s more common than you might think.
Of the 34 fires at churches and other religious institutions every week in the United States, five are set intentionally, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Three of those five cause major structural damage. Additionally, arson is one of the leading causes of fire-related claims. The average damage incurred in arson incidents over the past several years exceeded $225,000.
Places of worship are at risk for arson for several reasons, including: buildings are often unoccupied, activity schedules are often predictable and security systems are often lacking. In addition, a church’s beliefs may make it a target for arsonists.
The good news? By taking proactive precautionary measures inside and out, you can help arson-proof your place of worship. Minimize risk with these strategies:
Outside Your Facility
- Keep doors and windows locked when the building is unoccupied.
- Keep the property free from trash, leaves, wood 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 windows and doors to eliminate potential hiding places for arsonists.
- Use wire-mesh glass in windows to help protect the building from break-ins.
- Store ladders and tools in a secure area, not outside the building.
- Install video security cameras at entrances and other key areas.
- Keep tabs on and limit the number of building keys that are distributed to others. Better yet, consider installation of a keyless electronic entry system.
Inside Your Facility
- 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.
In Your Community
- Ask neighbors to alert police if anything suspicious is seen on church property.
- Develop positive relationships with local law enforcement and invite them to patrol the property during the overnight hours.
- Establish a “Church Watch” program in which member’s volunteer to drive through the property at various times throughout the week.