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Preventing Violence in Churches: Arson

We have been discussing strategy for the prevention of violent crime in churches over the last two issues of Church Protection Guide. You can access our first article, on forming a response team to prevent active shooters, here. Our second article concentrates on four key ways to prevent and respond to violent attacks.

In this article, we look at another type of violent crime that can occur at a church organization: arson. This type of violent crime is more common than an active shooter situation.

51% of church fires started by arson

An average of 103 fires per year were started by arson at houses of worship between 2000 and 2015, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ U.S. Bomb Data Center’s Bomb Arson Tracking System. Slightly more than half of fires at churches are caused by arson, according to the Pew Research Center.

Arson watch: like neighborhood watch

You’ve heard of neighborhood watch programs. Arson watch programs are based on the same model. One of the most important things to do to prevent violent crime at your organization is to build a relationship with emergency services. That way, they will know your plans and routines and can be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary that might occur.

You may also enlist volunteers – perhaps those who are on the active shooter response team or church members who live nearby – to keep an eye on the property when no one is on site. Those volunteers may coordinate to drive by the church during times when it is unoccupied. Be aware of criminal activity that has occurred recently in your community and increase surveillance accordingly.

Other arson deterrents

1. Exterior and interior lights: A good way to prevent crime of any kind on your property is to ensure that it is properly lighted. If your church’s exterior is lighted, it will be more difficult for someone to sneak onto your property without being seen. Interior lights also deter criminal activity because they give the illusion that someone is there.

2. Locked windows and doors: Churches are just as vulnerable to crime as other properties, so make sure all windows and doors are locked in your facilities. Make it a nightly practice that someone checks the doors and windows before leaving the property unoccupied.

3. Manicured landscapes: Overgrown bushes and trees – particularly those close to the building and near doorways – can obscure clear lines of sight. Arsonists and other criminals take advantage of that cover to perpetrate their crimes undetected. Trim trees and bushes and keep gardens neat to help prevent arson.

Sprinkler systems and smoke alarms

Make sure you have a smoke alarm on every floor of every building on your property. Test the batteries regularly to ensure that they are in working order. You may also consider installing a sprinkler system so that fires – accidental or arson – get put out right away. If you do have a sprinkler system installed, make sure that you get it inspected and maintained regularly.

No one likes to think about the possibility that a person may purposefully set a fire on church property, but it happens. Take steps to reduce the likelihood that it will happen to you.

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