Violence in Religious Organizations

Close up image of pews in a church with Bibles and Hymns on then

Due to continued heart-breaking tragedies, religious organizations should be aware of the coverage options for active assailant exposures. Though a crisis event may only last for a few moments, the consequences last forever. All organizations are susceptible to a critical incident and/or a deadly weapon attack; however, churches and other faith-based organizations are uniquely vulnerable and complex. In general, the majority have open environments, ease of access, limited security, and known schedules.

Faith-based missions and values inherently foster a welcoming attitude, a strength for their congregation, but a vulnerability in an active assailant situation.

These attacks are also different from what we see in other workplace violence events. In religious organizations, the incidents are frequently created by an unknown outsider with limited warning signs. The mixed audience of adults and children in an environment with expected common values makes these situations incredibly horrifying and complex.

It is an organization’s responsibility to provide a duty of care. This includes taking measures to prevent and respond to tragedies of this sort. Our experienced brokers at Arlington/Roe can help you write Active Assailant/Deadly Weapon Protection (DWP) policies for churches and other religious organizations. This important coverage is a separate policy from their current package, so there is no need to disrupt other lines. In addition to insurance coverage, policies are paired with risk management services to educate your clients and determine reasonable ways to protect building(s) and occupants and respond correctly should an incident take place.

We collaborated with our partners at Beazley & CrisisRisk to answer some frequently asked questions regarding religious organizations’ unique exposure.

Should Religious organizations have armed emergency responders?

Our markets and partners suggest organizations of all sizes have a planning and response team. However, they do not recommend armed personnel. They note there are exceptions, but generally, they say adding guns only escalates a situation and do not suggest that approach.

What if they want or already have armed security?

If armed security is used, there has to be a specific violence response plan including training, rules of engagement, and follow-ups. It is critical to have a list of the following information: licenses, training, positioning in the sanctuary, and expectations. Religious organizations generally include a senior member of the staff, ushers, and those with security and/or law enforcement backgrounds on this team.

If a security team member is required to use force (deadly or otherwise), will they be covered under the religious organization’s insurance?

The general answer is maybe and even then, on a limited basis. This is another reason why having a DWP policy in place is so important. There are no use-of-force restrictions in the DWP policy. While physical damage can be repaired, the emotional damage and feelings of guilt can be long-lasting.

Studies have shown one of the first questions parishioners ask is Could we have done anything to prepare for and recognize the danger before the event?

What else can organizations do to prevent and protect?

Insureds can use the following prevention services available through the DWP/CrisisRisk:

  • Consulting
  • Planning
  • Conducting physical security site assessments
  • Meeting with local first responders to regularly to ensure familiarity with facilities
  • Training those involved
  • Conducting training and practice exercises

Consultations via CrisisRisk begin shortly after binding and include personalized threat assessments, incident/emergency response protocols, seminars, 24/7 phone hotline access and much more.

Isn’t this covered under General Liability (GL)?

Some key differences between a GL policy and a separate Active Shooter/Deadly Weapon policy include:

  • Taking the guesswork out of how the policy would respond to an active shooter/school shooting event.
  • Crisis management services that come with the policy are incredibly valuable in educating the client on what to do in or how to prevent an Active Shooter/Deadly weapon situation.

Though I can’t speak to all markets’ forms, we tend to see a lot of general liability (GL) policies basically providing just “tack-on” crisis expenses coverages. Often, they are just expense coverage only and usually limited to a low amount. This type of extension does not provide liability coverage and crisis management services, nor does it include a property damage extension. Some GL policies exclude certain bodily injury or property damage if it is committed by an insured; for example, if an employee is the shooter. The Deadly Weapons Protection (DWP) policy contains no such “named insured” exclusions and/or restrictions. Many GL policies also contain terrorism exclusions. A shooting event could easily be labeled as “domestic terrorism” adding another layer of complexity to coverage.

In addition, litigation costs related to “duty-of-care” may not be available under GL insurance. A Deadly Weapon Policy is intended to function as “primary insurance” via the policy’s “Other Insurance” clause. Additionally, if there is an event, and both the DWP policy and the GL policy respond, the DWP policy/limits will be primary. This will preserve the GL limits for other claims that are more “GL-appropriate.”

Religious organizations are also not getting the benefit of crisis management services with traditional GL.

Eradicating the risk of a violent attack may be impossible but preparing for one is essential. Your clients may not realize they need this type of specialized insurance. Policy selection can be difficult, but through knowledge and market access, our brokers can help you offer insurance solutions tailored to your client’s needs. You can learn more by viewing our flyer here. You can also view Deadly Weapons Protection FAQs.

It would also be our pleasure to share more information on the Violence Prevention and Response Services that are included with the purchase of a DWP Policy, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Jennie Carr , CIC, AU

Vice President, Commercial Brokerage
Territories: All States
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