The term “arson” refers to the criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property. In that sense it differs from accidental fire or bushfires.
Ansvar Insurance says arson is a leading threat to places of worship in Australia. Arson can lead to damage to or destruction of church buildings, offices, furnishings and contents. The loss of rare items such as church artefacts, antiques or stained glass windows can be particularly damaging and distressing.
Arson can also leave an emotional and psychological impact on members of the faith community when they find themselves without a place to meet, congregate and work.
While arson is a deliberate act, it doesn’t always have malicious intent. In some cases it can be caused by unsupervised children, disaffected youth or people under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But in any case, the nature of arson means it is a security as well as a fire-safety issue, and churches and faith centres need to create a robust arson prevention plan to reduce the risk.
How does arson occur?
Arson tends to happen when churches are left unoccupied for periods of time, such as on weekdays or during the holidays.
Unoccupied churches can attract petty criminals looking for items they can easily sell, or thieves keen to cash in on the black market for church artefacts and valuables. These types of criminals will often set fire to the property to destroy evidence. In some cases churches can also be the target of hate crimes, or of delinquent fire-setters.
According to Ansvar there can be telltale signs of the possibility of an arson attack, such as:
- groups of youths consistently loitering near the building;
- broken windows, graffiti and vandalism;
- empty drink bottles scattered on the property;
- break-ins and small fires; and
- fires in other churches nearby.
If these things are happening then the chances of arson occurring in the near future are greatly increased.
Tips for creating a robust arson prevention plan
You can substantially reduce the risk of arson by reducing fire risk and by improving security on your property. Here are some tips.
Reduce fire risk by:
- Reducing or removing combustible materials from around the property. This includes rubbish and debris, candles, matches and containers of petrol.
- Regularly having your gutters cleaned and cleared of leaves, twigs and debris.
- Securing wheelie bins. Bins full of litter and rubbish can attract arsonists according to crime reports. To reduce the risk to your property, keep your wheelie bins away from the building and preferably in a secured or locked area. Our previous article on wheelie bin safety has more information and tips on this.
Maintain security by:
- Improving outside lighting and installing motion-sensor lights, intruder alarms and/or security cameras.
- Securing the building. This includes locking doors, windows and gates overnight and when the building is unoccupied.
- Locking any valuable items away from view and removing cash from the premises.
- Attending to repairs promptly after vandalism or graffiti occur. This gives out the message that the property is being maintained and attended to. See our previous post on church vandalism for more on this topic.
- Trimming bushes and shrubs to remove potential hiding spots for criminals.
Once you have created a risk reduction plan, you should also regularly review and refine it to make sure it is working as well as possible.
The importance of adequate insurance
Recently we wrote an article on the problem of underinsurance in Australia. If your property is underinsured it can mean you won’t be able to fully replace your assets when losses from arson occur.
At CCI Insurance we provide free-of-charge building valuations for our clients so we can accurately set the sums insured. Our property insurance also provides cover for “consequential loss” – such as loss of revenue when you are unable to use your premises.
It’s up to individual churches however to maintain a valuation of their contents. Of particular concern here is accurately valuing rare and unique items such as church artefacts. If you have these types of items you should have professional valuations done so you can get adequate insurance coverage. See our previous post on insuring church assets for more information on accurately insuring contents.
If arson occurs
Victoria Police recommend calling 000 for arson incidents. You can also contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 if you see suspicious behaviour that could indicate arson.
If you need to lodge claim for losses from arson, go to our ‘Making a Claim’ page for instructions on what to do next.
Written by Tess
Tags: arson, fire, security