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Religious entities ramp up risk management efforts in wake of attacks

Policeman silhouetted in front of the Masij El Noor as they stand guard at the memorial service to remember the victims of the Christchurch, New Zealand, shootings.

Recent attacks on places of worship such as the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, have led to increasing inquiries about insurance coverage and a heightened focus on risk management, brokers and insurers say.

While religious entities need to make sure they have adequate insurance in place, they should also consider disaster management and crisis response services that insurers may include in certain policies to help them plan for and mitigate these events, experts say.

“We’re seeing an increase in these sorts of events happening in houses of worship,” said John Sutton, Tampa, Florida-based senior underwriter for commercial lines at Burns & Wilcox.

“Primarily this has opened paths for dialogues to happen between insureds and agents, and carriers and/or brokers and wholesalers to make sure the coverage that historically may not have been purchased or not even offered is now something that is at least being discussed,” Mr. Sutton said.

Many of the attacks are intentional and often go unreported, said Peter A. Persuitti, managing director of the religious practice at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. “They are often cultural and driven by political beliefs, especially in the world we are in now, where faith is controversial,” he said.

“We’re getting these attacks and arsons and situations where churches are victims and targets of beliefs,” Mr. Persuitti said. For example, officials are currently investigating what they deem “suspicious” fires at three historic African-American churches in the past 10 days in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana.

The random nature of attacks means that every place of worship needs to be prepared, according to industry experts.

“There’s no apparent trend in terms of which (place of worship) is next. The randomness is frustrating. Which congregation should prepare next? The answer is they all should,” said Ed Hancock, chief underwriting officer at Merrill, Wisconsin-based Church Mutual Insurance Co., which offers specialized insurance for religious entities of all denominations, as well as schools, camps and nonprofits.

Recent high-profile attacks at houses of worship such as the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018 which left 11 dead and seven injured, and the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shootings in March which resulted in 50 fatalities and 50 injured, serve to “remind people that these events do occur on a regular basis, are random in their nature and need to be covered within their insurance programs,” said Chris Parker, focus group leader and underwriter at Beazley PLC in London in written responses.

First- and third-party liability coverage is “increasingly important” as these events continue, according to Marty Roche, Chicago-based area assistant vice president with managing general agent Risk Placement Services Inc. “There could be defense and indemnity if an insured is sued as a result of the event,” he said.

As a first step, every religious entity should do a “thorough vetting” of their general liability policy to check whether a violent assailant or active shooter-type event is covered under that policy, Mr. Roche said.

“There could be exclusions or there could be a need for a supplemental type policy like an active assailant policy,” Mr. Roche said.

Church Mutual has provided catastrophic violence response coverage to all of its policyholders since 2001 after the Columbine high school shooting, said Mr. Hancock. In the April 20, 1999, Columbine shooting two senior students embarked on an attack that left 15 dead, including the perpetrators.

The coverage pays up to $300,000 for expenses associated with a violent incident, defined as an event resulting in bodily injury or death or hostage situation of two or more individuals, he said. Currently offered free of charge, the insurer will soon begin charging for this coverage, Mr. Hancock said, because of the increasing risk.

Making sure that a policy covers assault & battery claims is important, according to Mr. Sutton. Terrorism coverage is another potential coverage that historically may not have been considered by houses of worship, he said.

“One of the conversations I recommend people have is what exactly is it going to cover and when would this coverage kick in,” Mr. Sutton said, adding that standalone terrorism coverage that does not require designation as a terrorist event by the federal government often kicks in sooner.

“A traditional terrorism policy will not offer coverage against these acts if there is an absence of physical damage to an insured property or if the perpetrator isn’t designated a terrorist,” said Mr. Parker in written comments. “Will a general liability policy cover the acts of a terrorist or an attack if it was reasonably foreseeable that the attack may have occurred?”

Because of these questions and the potential for gaps in coverage or areas of ambiguity in traditional insurance policies, Beazley has created its tailored deadly weapon protection insurance, which provides a range of prevention and crisis management services to respond to these types of attacks, he said.

Specialist policies such as active shooter and active assailant policies often include increasingly important services for disaster management or crisis response, experts say.

“Traditional insurance policies do not necessarily give clients the assistance they need to plan for or manage such a crisis. The crisis management embedded into deadly weapons protection cover helps clients to reduce the risks and to respond as effectively as possible should one take place,” Mr. Parker said.

“Some (active assailant policies) offer preloss services and will go onsite with the insured, walk through the buildings and talk about the different security concerns they have. They can talk about what they might plan to do in the immediate aftermath of an event,” said Mr. Roche.

Services may include how to talk to the media and to the families of victims, almost “a step by step” guide of how to get through an event, he said.

“Most businesses don’t have the experience of an active shooting or malicious attack on their premises, so those types of services are invaluable,” Mr. Roche said.

Interest in risk management and safety among religious entities is high, said Guy Russ, assistant vice president for risk control with Church Mutual.

The mutual insurer launched an awareness campaign and has held nine events to educate policyholders about the measures that can be taken to mitigate the threats. “We’ve had over 2,000 individuals attend representing more than 1,500 organizations. Each of those events has resulted in 10-20 requests coming to our risk control consultants who assist organizations in creating an armed intruder plan,” Mr. Russ said.

In the last year, the mutual insurer’s risk control central team has also seen more than one third of policyholder inquiries relate to safety and security in houses of worship and more than 10% of all inquiries related to what kind of security team they should put in place, he said.

Aligning with local authorities and with other places of worship in the community are a key part of any risk management plan, Mr. Persuitti said.

There’s a need to work as a leadership team and to engage with your ushers and congregation and with civil authorities, he said, adding: “We can’t use as a defense that we didn’t know … Your police, fire and rescue should be your partners.”




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