By Eric Spacek
As war in the Middle East creates a ripple effect of escalating tensions in the U.S., houses of worship should be on heightened alert and prepared for the potential of civil unrest.
Sadly, U.S. synagogues and mosques may be specifically targeted during this time by those who act out of ignorance and hate. Since they are not constantly occupied, all house of worship buildings can be prime targets for vandals and thieves who may take advantage of chaotic situations to commit crimes.
Whether during tense times or not, it’s always a good idea to lower your risk of experiencing a break-in or damage. Let’s look at some top security concerns, how to address risk gaps, and other steps houses of worship can take to keep their buildings and property safe.
- Lock all doors and windows. It may sound simple, but it’s a good idea to double-check every single entrance point. Basement window wells and ground level windows should be protected. You can place a metal bar or broom stick in the track of sliding glass doors for additional security.
- Light up the property. Make sure your parking lot, sidewalks and doors are well-lit and establish a schedule for checking bulbs.
- Perform regular security sweeps of the facility. If you can, designate a staff member or volunteer to walk the property on a regular basis. Make sure bushes and shrubbery are trimmed back, all lights are working properly, and ladders and other equipment are locked away. Don’t provide criminals with tools they can use to break into your building.
- Pick up mail and newspapers every day. An accumulation of these items is a dead giveaway that your facility is empty. Ask the person who is walking the property to pick up the mail and any other items.
- Secure art and other valuables. You may have precious or sentimental items of great value in your facility. Now is the time to put all those pieces in storage so would-be thieves can’t easily find them. Place them in an interior room so they are protected from the sun; an attic or basement aren’t the best choices because they can leave the items vulnerable to flooding or extreme temperatures. You should also keep an inventory list of all your valuable items so you can account for them if you do experience a break-in.
- Protect your stained-glass windows. If you have stained-glass windows, consider using a protective covering. Windows can be particularly tempting for vandals, who are looking for easy targets.
- Keep your property looking neat. Perform regular maintenance on your property, including keeping the grass cut and removing debris from the walkways and entrances. Trim tree branches near your building that could provide criminals with access to the second story.
- Keep all flammables securely locked away. Gas cans and flammable liquids should be securely stored out of sight. Pick up any debris or other items a vandal could use to start a fire.
- Maintain a relationship with local police. You may ask patrol officers to regularly drive by your facility and look for signs of security problems. Train your staff to detect suspicious behaviors and respond appropriately, including alerting law enforcement.
- Install a security system. Now may be the time to install a burglar alarm and/or security system. You need a reliable method for monitoring your facility from wherever you are.
In most cases, vandals and thieves avoid challenges. If you make it more difficult for them to break in or cause damage to your property, they may look elsewhere for an easier target.
Eric Spacek is assistant vice president — Risk Control at Church Mutual Insurance Company.