With the start of the 2011 holiday shopping season approaching, retailers need to ensure they have plans in place to address the increased risk of a flash mob event, Marsh warned today.

Retailers have long been accustomed to preparing for and managing the risks associated with massive crowds at their stores on Black Friday—traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year—and throughout the holiday shopping season. But flash mobs—groups of people that organize through social media to assemble suddenly in a public place—present a new threat in 2011.

“Flash mobs are often perceived by the general public as innocuous or entertaining social gatherings. However, criminals have recently begun to take advantage of the method to quickly gather and swarm retail stores to steal merchandise,” said Mac Nadel, U.S. Retail/Wholesale and Food and Beverage Practice Leader for Marsh. “These so-called ‘criminal flash mobs’ or ‘flash robs’ present a serious threat to retailers’ employee and customer wellbeing, property, bottom lines, and reputations.”

Ten percent of retailers surveyed by the National Retail Federation in July 2011 reported being victimized by at least one criminal flash mob event over the previous 12 months. Such incidents have resulted in injuries to employees and customers, property theft, and property damage.

Meanwhile, the growing accessibility of social media now enables individuals to direct large numbers of willing participants to specific locations in order to disrupt business and vehicle traffic. In some instances, the chaos created by these groups has risen to levels that cannot be controlled by loss prevention, mall security, or police.

In a new white paper, Responding to Flash Mob/Rob Events, Marsh outlines steps retailers should take before, during, and after a flash mob event. Marsh’s recommendations for preparing for and responding to a flash mob event include:

  • monitoring of social media websites to identify potential threats;
  • reviewing business interruption plans and insurance programs with regards to partial or full shutdown of a location;
  • providing training to employees related to disorderly conduct, assault, theft, and looting;
  • developing internal and external communications plans before an event; and
  • communicating frequently with local law enforcement.