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Churches can do much to deter arson, experts say

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Despite a possible sense of vulnerability in light of recent events in Alabama, churches can do much to deter and even prevent arson to their property, insurance experts say.

Ten Baptist churches, including four Southern Baptist ones, were set on fire by arsonists in rural Alabama in February. Nine of the fires were set at night, and federal and state officials have yet to arrest anyone.

Churches in Alabama and other states can take common sense precautions to protect their buildings, experts say. One insurance company that deals often with churches, GuideOne Insurance, has released a list of arson-preventing tips. The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions posted the GuideOne tips on its website.

“Probably the best of all the ideas is to have better locks, steel-clad doors and to have a lot of light around the church,” Jim Swedenburg, coordinator of annuity and insurance services for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, told Baptist Press. “Many churches will put one security light somewhere on the parking lot, and you really need four — one on each corner of the property — facing the building.

“You do those basic things and add a good church watch program, and you’ve got a good plan.”

A church watch program, Swedenburg said, is similar to a neighborhood watch, “where you’re making people aware that they need to keep an eye on the church, asking people to drive by there when they’re going out — just looking to see if everything’s OK.”

An alarm system, “if a church can afford it,” also helps, Swedenburg said. The alarm should be equipped with either an automated phone dialer that calls the police, or at a minimum, an alarm, he said.

GuideOne lists five “Ls” to prevent arson — lockup, lighting, landscaping, lookout and law enforcement. The complete list of GuideOne’s arson-preventing tips follows:


— “Illuminate exterior buildings, doors and parking lots from sunset to sunrise,” GuideOne says.

— “Consider installing motion-activated lighting near doors and windows.

— “Keep doors and windows locked when the building is unoccupied.

— “Trim shrubs and trees around windows and doors to eliminate potential hiding places for arsonists and criminals.

— “Keep track of and limit the disbursement of building keys.

— “Make sure that doors are of solid core (not hollow) construction and are outfitted with quality deadbolt locks and, if hinged on the outside, [have] tamper-proof hinges.

— “Utilize wire-mesh glass in windows for additional protection.”

— Do not store ladders and tools outside the building.

— “Keep the property free from trash 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.”


— “Leave interior entry lights on overnight.

— “Make sure that flammable liquids are stored in a locked closet or cabinet away from any heat sources, such as heating or air conditioning equipment.

— “If possible, install a central station monitored security/fire detection system and sprinkler fire suppression system.

— “Consider the use of timers for lights and/or radios during evening hours.

— “Look for items that appear out of place or out of the ordinary.”


— “Ask neighbors to alert police if anything suspicious is seen on church property.

— “Develop positive relationships with local law enforcement and invite them to patrol the property during the overnight hours.

— “Establish a ‘church watch’ program in which members volunteer to drive through the property at various times throughout the week.”

Additional information on church safety is available online at www.guideonecenter.com.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust