If you think arson is a rarity, think again. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there were 8,500 prosecuted arson cases in 2010. Because this crime is difficult to prove, reported incidences likely represent only a fraction of deliberate fires each year.
Bernie Arends, who served as an origin and cause fire investigator for over 30 years and currently works as a sales associate for Inspection Reports Online, and Alan Major, a fire/life safety trainer for Universal Protection Service who served on the Santa Monica Fire Department for 34 years, share valuable tips that can protect properties against arson.
Why should building owners be
concerned about arson?
Major: There are no property types that are immune to arson. Arson occurs for a variety of reasons, such as revenge, fraud, a cover-up to another crime, protest, or a random act of vandalism. Arsonists often repeat the act if there are no consequences.
Arends: Arson is the most expensive crime in the United States when you take into account property damage, disruption of business continuity, insurance settlements, and sometimes loss of life. Many fires that are listed in national statistics as “undetermined” are actually deliberate. It is estimated that half of the fires in this country are intentionally versus accidentally set, but the conviction rate for arson is less than 5%.
What preventive measures can decrease the likelihood of arson?
Major: Good property policies and procedures are the best way to prevent arson. A risk assessment should be conducted to find a facility’s weak spots and provide a basis to implement improvements. Review your assessment whenever the building undergoes a major change such as construction, clientele type, or staffing.
Arends: You need to look at all of the internal and external vulnerabilities of your facility. Installed systems such as fire alarms and fire sprinklers are the most valuable assets, but who controls access to these vital systems? Doors to fire alarm panels and sprinkler controls should have restricted access to prevent someone from setting a fire more easily by shutting down the systems.
Major: Never overlook the importance of having up-to-date evacuation plans and practicing fire drills with occupants.
Also be mindful of activities on your property. Labor disputes or public demonstrations that are not managed and supervised can create an opportunity for arson and other crimes.