Keven Moore on Insurance: Flash mobs, social media can be a legitimate threat
As a traumatized victim of a flash mob last fall in my very own backyard, let me just say that at the speed of Twitter, I can see how the “Spring Arab Uprising” was able to overthrow evil dictators the CIA couldn’t root-out in decades.
My flash mob incident began with a simple yes, casually agreeing to my high school son’s impromptu request to have a few friends over for a bon-fire in our backyard one Friday evening. As I emphasize the key words “few friends” with him. With nightfall already upon us, I went as far as to help him prepare the fire-pit, a small table and an electrical cord so that the could play a little music from his iphone speakers. Then I retreated to the comforts of my family room to watch TV with my lovely wife.
It wasn’t 45 minutes later when I began to hear what sounded like the stirring of very large crowd. I glanced out the window from above and not being able to see anything I brushed it off. Then as the roar began to accelerate, I decided to investigate. To my surprise, I walked into the middle of a full-fledged High School party right smack in the middle of my backyard with some 100 high school kids swarming about with more kids arriving like a beachhead invasion in groups of 4-5 every couple of minutes.
To my horror and my son’s disbelief, he had accomplished — with the stroke of 140 characters or less, within less than an hour — something, that some of the coolest kids of my generation couldn’t accomplish with weeks of preparation. Even Tom Cruise would have been proud.
Back in the day when I was in high school a well planned “Risky Business” type party took weeks to plan, and if you weren’t in the loop or didn’t hear about it in class, you were left at home watching Little House on the Prairie with your parents.
But today all it takes is one simple Twitter post to move the masses towards a cause or event, regardless if those intentions are good or bad. Stop and think about this for just a second: could you image what more Martin Luther King or Gandhi could have accomplished with Twitter or Facebook?
Many people have no idea how powerful this thing called social media has become, and the uses are still evolving.
The origins of a flash mob first began some10 yrs ago and are described as a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place to perform an unusual act, such as a pillow fight or singing a song, and then disperse quickly. Some even called it Art. Social media is used to announce a time and place for the mob to meet. Flash mobs can become out of control with upwards of hundreds to thousands of people participating. These flash mobs are occurring just about everywhere including our very own back yards and at the University of Kentucky.
Video of a flash mob at the University of Kentucky Library
While a majority of flash mobs are for entertainment purposes, the phrase has taken a darker and more twisted version in recent years as criminals are now exploiting the obscurity of crowds, by using social networking to synchronize everything from robberies to fights to general chaos. As more and more flash mobs are materializing across the world, police must respond and keep tabs on all these spontaneous gatherings.
Examples of these criminal flash mobs are called Flash Robs, and they are occurring at a growing pace in many cities all across American.
Where a mob shows up on cue all linked together by social media or text messaging and arriving at a place of business with the intent to cause mayhem, steal or rob. Then at a the click of a phone, they all leave the store with whatever they want, knowing that they all can’t be stopped, even if there is an armed policeman nearby. The most recent incident to hit the news occurred in a Wal-Mart in Jacksonville, FL.
Video of flash mob at Florida Wal-Mart
Flash mob participants know there is safety in numbers and realize that the workers are going to do very little to stop their activities as many are being trained to step back and not engage. They also know that if the police are called, that they will arrive long after they have left the premise. Even if a police officer were to be present when a 60-person flash rob occurred, he or she could only catch one while the other 59 make out with the loot.
In my college days working as McAplin’s loss prevention rep at Turfland Mall, we would be hit by an organized group of thieves, in what we would call a Snatch & Run. Where a car-load of thieves would walk into the store and grab the most expensive stack of jeans back by the door and run out to a waiting car.
However, Flash Robs bring a whole other level of concern for businesses and risk managers. As with any mob, just about anything could occur, as the dynamics can turn deadly at a moment’s notice.
Just recently the National Retail Federation issued a warning to retailers of the potential risks of flash robs, as they are seeing an alarming noticeable increase in trends. There is fear that even organized crimes may have or will begin to get behind these tactics.
As it relates to the insurance market, there aren’t any exclusions I have seen in the marketplace, so typically such losses are being covered on business owners’ insurance policies through their business crime, general liability and property insurance.
So far the actual losses themselves have not generated large losses, but there is a greater concern for the safety of the employees and customers, which do generally generate much larger claims.
The secondary byproduct of such events is they do tend to attract unwanted media attention to business, resulting in customers not wanting to visit that place of business for fear of their safety, which in turn tarnishes the business’s reputation, resulting in future loss of sales.
If you find yourself in such an event here are some tips for staying safe:
• If you see swarms of people come into an establishment, leave as quickly as possible. Do not be a Hero.
• Retailers should stress to employees to never grab, stop, prevent, or lock in multiple offenders.
• If you are in the back of the store, or cannot get out of the door, head for the restroom, storage room or wherever there is a room — and lock or blockade the door.
• If there is no lock on the bathroom door lock yourself in a stall and stand on the toilet so you cannot be seen.
Call 911; know your location, be aware of your surroundings, know where you are at all times.
• Do not attempt to take photos or videos of the mob, as you can very quickly become a target.
• If you see weapons being flashed by robbers or store clerks, get behind something solid if you cannot flee.
• Cooperate and comply with the robber demands for your own safety and the safety of others.
• Remain calm and think clearly.
• Make mental notes of the robber’s physical description and other observations important to law enforcement officers.
• Do not chase or follow the robbers; leave that job to the police, as many will later YouTube the event to brag about their heist.
As the occurrence for flash mobs and flash robs continues to grow, there are significant consequences. Some may call such actions a form of Art, while others call it criminal. As for my personal traumatic event last Fall, I am still dealing with the consequence as I had to actually re-sod my backyard after the kids trampled down and killed my grass and with the ongoing drought this season, I would have to say my dead grass isn’t so artistic looking these days.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at email@example.com.