Arson advice for churches

23 November 2020

Arson poses a major security challenge for church communities. Fires are often started by arsonists, or by thieves concealing their crime, and sadly, churches are often viewed as a soft target.

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How to reduce the risk of arson attacks at your church premises

To help you manage the risk of arson attacks, we have developed some helpful guidance.

Arson in church premises – steps for prevention

As a custodian of the church, we know your aim is to protect and preserve your church, not just today, but for future generations. Below we have outlined the steps from our video in a helpful list:

Report suspicious activity and make your church look busy

  • Report suspicious activity to the Gardaí immediately
  • Encourage parishioners and neighbours to visit the church grounds as part of their daily routine, and report any suspicious activity
  • Use the building as much as possible for church and community activities. 

Carry out regular external inspections of your church buildings and grounds

  • A damaged building is at risk of further attacks, including arson. Make regular checks to the building and report damage to the Gardaí and your insurers as quickly as possible
  • Work with your local Crime Prevention Officer and keep in contact with other nearby churches to report damage and share advice.

Repair damage to the church immediately

Minor damage is often followed by more serious incidents, including arson 

  • Ensure any damage is repaired quickly
  • Remove graffiti as quickly as possible.

Practice good housekeeping

Fires can be started using everyday waste, so make sure it is collected regularly and try to store bins and refuse containers at least 10 metres from buildings. Consider using lockable bin lids, or creating a secure waste storage compound.
  • Lock sheds and outbuildings – these often contain equipment that could assist an arsonist, such as petrol for a mower 
  • Remove items that can be used to start fires from inside the church, for example portable heaters and matches
  • Keep internal doors shut when the building is not in use to prevent fires from spreading.

Use candles safely in church

Site votive candle stands away from combustible items, such as curtains, and store paper for prayer requests away from the candle stands.  

Check your fire extinguishers

  • Check you have enough fire extinguishers, also check they are water (hydro-spray), AFFF or carbon dioxide types, not dry powder type extinguishers 
  • Site the extinguishers appropriately, for example near exit doors and high-risk areas such as votive candle stands. Make sure they are maintained on an annual basis
  • Train people to safely use extinguishers. Follow our link for more detail on best practice use of fire extinguishers.

Keep your church secure

  • At night lock your church doors, windows, and any external gates. 
  • Lock church halls when they are not in use.
  • Keep your church visible by keeping trees trimmed and the grounds well lit.
  • Consider installing fire or intruder alarms, or close circuit televisions, that provide continual monitoring to an alarm receiving centre.

Be Prepared for fire

  • Keep up-to-date fire risk assessments for your premises. Consider ways in which deliberate fires could be started and how you can prevent or reduce the risk.    
  • Keep a photographic record of your church’s key features, for example stained glass windows, and store the record off site. This will help if these items need to be restored or replaced following loss or damage.
  • Have an emergency plan in place. Identify what steps need to be taken in the event of a serious incident. For example, who needs to be contacted? If there is the opportunity, which items need to be moved for safety? 
  • Larger churches should consider developing a business continuity plan. 

Make sure everyone understands their role and responsibilities

In the event of a fire at your church, having a protocol to follow can help you to react quickly and reduce damage. You can download our arson checklist as a guide to reviewing procedures and responsibilities at your church.