National Arson Awareness Week in Full Swing

May 9, 2017

Preventing Arson at Houses of Worship

National Arson Awareness Week will be in full swing from May 7th through May 13th this year. The theme for this year’s awareness campaign focuses on protecting houses of worship from intentional fires through prevention. The honorable Governor Larry Hogan has proclaimed May 7 – 13, 2017 as National Arson Awareness Week in Maryland.

Deputy State Fire Marshals are currently going to houses of worship in the communities they are assigned in order to promote prevention efforts and risk assessments in and around the sacred properties.

Arson is the act of deliberately setting fire to a building, car or other property for fraudulent or malicious purposes and is a crime in all states. Insurers have an interest in preventing and detecting arson because such fires cause needless loss of life and property and also push up the cost of insurance.

Great strides have been made in fighting arson since the 1973 report; “America Burning” raised awareness of arson losses and led to a decade of action that marked the beginning of a cooperative national effort to combat the crime. Some of the achievements of the four decades since are improved training in arson detection, the establishment of insurer-administered computerized databases of property claims to help identify suspicious fires, the formation of special units in insurance companies to investigate suspected arson and state laws allowing the free exchange of information between insurers and law enforcement agencies without the threat of civil suits for libel or violation of privacy.

1. In every place of worship the most important single measure is for a particular individual to take responsibility for security. Responsibility may be delegated to another member i.e. secretary, administrator or a member of the congregation.
2. The person responsible needs to carry out their own “risk assessment” of the property to identify ways in which intruders, thieves or vandals could start fires. Determine what the effect would be and how to prevent or reduce the risk. Help is available from the insurer of the place of worship, Office of the State Fire Marshal, local county or city fire marshal and local police department.
3. If there have been any small fires or malicious damage to the church or in the locality (there may be an arsonist at work), inform the authorities immediately. A small fire could be the warning of worse to come.

Please refer to these general tips to help curb the likeliness of an intentionally set fire:


1. Restricted entry – It is often the case that when the church is unoccupied the door is locked. Where it is required to keep the place of worship open it is recommended that someone is on the premises. This may be achieved by having a roster of members willing to give up an hour or so of their time to act as “caretaker”. Arrangements have to be made for passing on the key and for return of the key at the end of the day to the person in charge. Never hide keys or leave keys on the premises.
2. Doors and windows should of good repair and locked when not in use.
3. Walls, gates and fences should be of good repair.

Halls, Community Centers

1. These areas tend to be targets for thieves and vandals. Ensure that doors and windows are securely locked after use, keys returned to the person in charge and provide a general inspection before the last person leaves.
2. Valuables, as much as possible, should be securely locked away.
3. Worship offices when not in use must be kept locked. These are areas where many arson fires occur.
4. If appropriate enlist the help of neighbors in keeping an eye open for suspicious behavior.
5. Sheds/outbuildings may contain tools, (which help intruders to break into places of worship) or flammable liquids to help an intruder start a fire. Keep outbuildings securely locked.

Good housekeeping

1. Vandals or thieves (to cover their tracks) will use any “fuel” available to light fires.
2. Try to ensure there is no combustible material lying around for an arsonist. This is particularly important where churches are used for recreational and educational uses and in church halls.
3. Don’t let trash or dry vegetation accumulate – inside or outside the church.
4. Matches, candles, and fuels can all be used to start a fire and help it spread. Keep all such materials locked away.


1. Intruder alarm which will sound an audible warning and which should preferably be linked via a supervised central alarm.
2. Fire extinguishers for use by people on the spot who are trained in their use.
3. Security lighting – Intruders like to work in the dark. Security lighting of areas adjacent to doors or windows can be a powerful deterrent.
4. CCTV Installation of one or more closed-circuit-television cameras well act as a deterrent to intruders.