Churches Weather Copper Thieves, Insurance Concerns
One insurer says it may limit payouts on costly thefts.

Copper remains a hot commodity. On Thursday afternoon, one pound of the industrial metal was worth nearly $412, according to Bloomberg. And because of the metal's increased value, thieves see a prime opportunity to swipe copper from air conditioning units and home and commercial construction sites, then turn around and sell their spoils to scrap metal dealers for quick cash.

Churches remain a primary target.

For instance, Southern Mutual Church Insurance, South Carolina's largest insurer of churches, says it paid more than $707,000 in claims to 113 churches through April. In 2010, it paid $1.2 million to 174 churches for the entire year, according to The State.

Thieves hit one South Carolina church twice, causing more than $100,000 in damages. That church's insurer, unidentified in the article, stopped insuring it altogether, one of the church's leaders says.

Southern Mutual Church Insurance says the problem has grown so large that it may limit payouts on future coverages to any church that suffers damage from a copper theft and refuses to put protective measures in place.

A protective cage around an air conditioning unit is one such measure. Other steps can thwart thieves, according to this ChurchSafety.com article, which also points out that rooftop heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units, gutters, pipes, and electrical wiring are also at risk:

Hinder Access

Thieves are opportunists. They want easy access, so they can get what they want quickly and escape without notice. By hindering access and making detection more likely, you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim.

  • Place a cage or fence around air conditioning units.
  • Secure the electrical power shut-off switch. Move the switch, if it's located near the air conditioning units.
  • Enclose church property with a secure fence.
  • Post "no trespassing" signs.
  • Remove ladders and other items offering easy access to rooftop HVAC units.
  • Replace copper downspouts with other materials.
  • Store vehicles inside locked garages or sheds. If that's not an option, have members drive vehicles home each night, so they're not left in parking lots.
  • Don't leave copper plumbing, gutters, or wiring on construction sites.

Improve the Likelihood of Detection

  • Increase lighting around HVAC units and places where thieves might hide.
  • Install alarms on HVAC units.
  • Use security cameras to monitor target areas.
  • Ask church members to drive past the church when they're in the neighborhood, looking for suspicious cars, people, or activity.
  • Invite church neighbors to call police if they notice unusual activity.
  • Have local police patrol your property regularly during evening and night hours.
  • Ask your local police or fire department if they'll do a free assessment and offer tips for improving your property's security.

For additional help on securing church property, be sure to check out these electronic training resources from ChurchSafety.com:

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations

Comments

Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

Peter Kim, Zurich Insurance

June 07, 2011  1:20pm

Please keep in mind that having permanently installed ladders for roof access provides 2 important benefits: 1) it provides approved personnel easy access to the roof for periodic roof inspections. Poorly maintained roofs are a major source of property loss for churches - more common and costly than copper thefts. 2) Easily accessible, permanently afixed ladders provides authorized personnel a safer alternative to portable ladders for accessing roofs. One way of securing permanent ladders from unauthorized use is to install a locked security gate to the bottom of the ladder. This is a more preferred method of restricting unauthorized access to your roof than removing fixed ladders.

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Mark Hancock

June 07, 2011  10:11am

Our church has been vandalized twice - once last August and again last week. Our trustees have become so security conscious because of personal violence done to clergy and church staff in our metropolitan area and around the country - let alone the vandalism done to our own church property - I feel like we've become Richland Hills United Methodist Fortress! Hard to have Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors when they're locked.

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