Over the past 12 months in Australia, there have been many suspected serious arson attacks against various houses of worship, some of these have included the historic Uniting Church in Ocean Grove VIC, Garden City Mosque in Toowoomba QLD and St Jude’s in Carlton VIC. Ansvar Insurance, Australia’s leading insurance provider for the Care, Community, Education, Faith and Heritage sectors recommends organisations consider a number of key measures when protecting their properties.
A common challenge for many Faith organisations is the accurate valuation of their properties. It is often not until a devastating event like a fire occurs that a house of worship’s value is truly determined. When properties aren’t insured for their full replacement value it creates a serious financial burden for the Faith organisation. A professional assessment to determine the true value of the property can provide peace of mind. During 2014 Ansvar clients experienced fire losses on places of worship exceeding $10 million dollars of which the majority of properties had been under-insured.
What makes these fires particularly devastating beyond the damage to the physical building can be the loss of what Ansvar calls the “heritage overlay.” Many houses of worship contain stained glass, specialist stone masonry work, religious artifacts and heritage protected roofing. This requires specialist materials and specialist contractors approved to work on heritage buildings, and can cause significant delays in rebuilding.
“Unfortunately arson attacks on churches and places of worship are on the rise in Australia. In light of these attacks, it is sound business practice that all places of worship take every measure to protect themselves from the threat of arson,” says David Davies, Ansvar’s Head of Risk Solutions. “Arson is a deliberate and frightening reality and places of worship can be easy targets with devastating results.” says Davies.
As a leading specialist insurer to the Australian Faith community, Ansvar has considerable experience and in-depth knowledge of risk mitigation and the prevention of arson.
Mr Davies and the Ansvar Risk Solutions team recommend the following preventative steps to help deter would-be arsonists and/or thieves:
- Regularly review building security arrangements – make sure adequate measures are in place to protect vulnerable areas against unauthorised access.
- Encourage neighbours to be vigilant – and report any suspicious activity to police
- Good housekeeping – do not accumulate rubbish and combustibles waste in or around the building. Lock away candles and matches. Do not leave petrol in the building. All boiler houses should be locked with no combustible waste stored in them.
- Do not site wheelie bins or refuse containers close to buildings – locate bins in secure areas well away from buildings if possible. A fire in a waste bin close to the building can quickly shatter glass and spread inside the building.
- Carry out repairs quickly – from graffiti or malicious damage attacks. Minor damage is often followed by more serious incidents including arson if not addressed quickly.
- Lock the building overnight – this includes all perimeter gates. The risk increases significantly during the hours of darkness. Buildings should be locked when not in use. Doors and accessible windows should be adequately secured to prevent unauthorised access.
- Limited authorised entry points – other than for services, leave only one door unlocked during the day. This should be easily visible from nearby properties. If not have Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) installed with signs mounted and clearly visible.
- Regular building visits – create the illusions the building is visited regularly and encourage parishioners and neighbours to visit as part of their daily routine. Use the building as much as possible. If practical have a roster of building sitters. Keep internal doors closed to prevent fire from spreading.
- External alarms – consider installing external security lighting and intruder alarms as CCTV to help deter criminals. Fire and intruder alarms should have remote signalling to a receiving centre ensuring 24 hour response to any activation, helping mitigate losses as far as possible.
- Fire Extinguishers – ensure all fire extinguishers are maintained annually and the building officials have been trained in their use.
- Sprinkler Systems – given the amount of timber used in the interior constructions, an active sprinkler system can be the difference in saving or losing the property.
In addition to these measures, Ansvar can provide its Faith clients with a Risk Survey focusing on all the potential hazards and provide peace of mind to both client and provider.
To download a copy of Ansvar Insurance’s arson prevention white paper entitled, “Protect Your Place of Worship. Understand, Manage and Reduce the Risk of Arson”, please visit /risky-business/downloads-worksheets-resources/