National Arson Awareness Week

planning ahead // Eric Spacek, JD, ARM on Tuesday May 5, 2015

National Arson Awareness Week, sponsored by the U.S. Fire Administration runs May 3 to 9 this year, and helps spread the word about arson prevention and youth fire setting.  According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2013, arson destroyed $663 million worth of property, which included 22,500 intentionally set structural fires, and 10,500 vehicle fires.

Churches and religious organizations are vulnerable to arson because their buildings are often unoccupied, their activities run on a regular schedule and can be predictable, and the buildings are not always equipped with proper security equipment.  In addition, arsonists may target the buildings due to the beliefs of its members.  At GuideOne Insurance, arson is one of the leading causes of claims, along with open flames, electrical fires and lightning, averaging $450,000 in damage.  To help reduce the risk of arson at your church, consider taking the following precautions:

Outdoors

  • Illuminate exterior buildings, doors and parking lots from sunset to sunrise.
  • Consider the installation of motion-activated lighting near doors and windows.
  • Keep doors and windows locked when the building is unoccupied.
  • Trim shrubs and tree limbs around windows and doors to eliminate potential hiding places for arsonists and criminals.
  • Secure ladders and tools in a locked shed or inside the building when they are not in use.  If this is not possible, secure ladders outside with a high quality chain and lock.
  • Keep track of and limit the disbursement of building keys.  Consider installation of a keyless electronic entry system.
  • Make sure that exterior doors are of solid core (not hollow) construction and are outfitted with quality deadbolt locks and, if hinged on the outside, tamper-proof hinges.
  • Use wire-mesh glass in windows for additional protection from break-ins.
  • Keep the property free from boxes, leaves, trash, wood and other potentially combustible debris.
  • Consider installing video security cameras at entrances and other key areas.
  • Park church vehicles in differing locations on the property throughout the week to vary routine.
  • Keep trash containers as far away from the building as possible.

Indoors

  • Consider using timers for lights and/or radios during evening hours.  Timed use of interior entry lights overnight should be considered.
  • Make sure flammable liquids are stored in a U.L.-listed fire cabinet away from any heat sources, such as heating equipment.
  • If possible, install a central station monitored security/fire detection system.  Also consider a fire sprinkler suppression system.
  • Make sure smoke and heat detectors are operational, and fire extinguishers are in place and have been regularly serviced. Learn how to pick out the right fire extinguisher for your facility
  • Restrict access to areas containing valuable or combustible materials by locking interior doors.

Other Considerations

  • Ask neighbors to alert the police if anything suspicious is seen on the church property.
  • Develop a positive relationship with local law enforcement and invite them to patrol the property during overnight hours.
  • Establish a “Church Watch” program in which members volunteer to drive through the property at various times throughout the week.

Protect your Building 

Arson is a true threat to churches and other religious organizations.  Make sure your facility is protected by taking these precautions. In addition, check out this arson prevention checklist from SafeChurch.com

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Space, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.

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