Arson: One of the Most Serious Threats to Places of Worship

| May 14, 2013

The historic Holy Rosary Church in Windsor Ontario, a designated heritage building, was pelted with Molotov cocktails in broad daylight on May 2, 2013. Fortunately, a passerby saw flames coming from the basement and called 911. As a result, firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze before it caused extensive, irrevocable damage.

Commenting on the event, Colin Robertson, Vice President, Risk Control Services at Ecclesiastical Insurance, pointed out that the majority of church fires are caused by arson and usually involve intrusion through windows and doors.

"This blatant act of arson, executed at a busy time of day, serves as a stark reminder that faith communities must be ever more vigilant and watch for telltale signs of potential trouble," he said. "There is a pattern of activity leading to arson – for example, breaking windows, tearing down signs, leaving broken bottles or trash on the property and painting graffiti on doors and walls. In fact, repeated acts of vandalism can ultimately result in a more serious arson attack."

As the specialist insurer of choice for over 50% of Canada's faith communities, Ecclesiastical has extensive experience in risk management for arson prevention. Robertson's team is often called upon to present workshops and seminars that help customers identify and manage this and other risks facing faith communities.

Ecclesiastical's Risk Control team recommends the following preventative steps to help deter would-be arsonists:

1. Remove combustibles. Lock candles, matches, newspapers, paints and flammable liquids in a metal security container and store it in a locked shed.

2. Keep the property clean and tidy. Trim trees and shrubs, sweep up leaves, and remove graffiti. Use garbage bins that can be locked and keep them away from the building.

3. Do not leave a place of worship unattended while open. Have a professional or volunteer caretaker on site and visible.

4. Report any suspicious behaviour or activity to the police. Suspicious activity includes groups of young people loitering on the property, vandalism, and graffiti. Be vigilant and assign volunteers to walk past the place of worship as part of a neighbourhood watch program.

5. Lock up outbuildings or sheds. At the end of the day, lock away ladders, tools, and all storage areas.

6. Restrict entry. Keep doors and windows locked and keys secure. Use heavy-duty locks that can withstand an attempted entry. Know where keys are at all times and who has access to them.

7. Install security lighting. Consider perimeter flood lighting and motion- activated lights at doors and windows. Use timers on interior lights and ensure that interior lighting is visible from the outside.

8. Install fire and intrusion alarms. These may well be the best protection for places of worship. Alarms that are central station monitored are most effective in deterring arsonists.

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Category: Church Security

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