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no riot happened Credit: Maanvi Singh

Wednesday, #FlashMob became one of Twitter’s most tweeted-about topics in Philadelphia.

The Division of Public Safety warned yesterday that a “large gathering of juveniles” may convene in the afternoon near 40th and Market streets. However, DPS confirmed at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday that no such incident occurred.

Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush said DPS recently met with Philadelphia Police, as well as other area police departments, to discuss similar “flash mob” incidents in Center City. The mobs are thought to be organized via social media like Myspace and Facebook. The most recent incident occurred Saturday night near 10th and South streets.

Last April, hundreds of high-school age teenagers gathered at 40th and Walnut streets, and around 10 were arrested for disorderly conduct.

In March 2009, a crowd of about 500 teens outside Strikes Bowling Lounge, located at 4040 Locust St., was broken up by Penn and Philadelphia police. Large crowds also gathered in the 40th Street corridor in summer and fall 2008, though Rush told The Daily Pennsylvanian in Oct. 2008 article that many of the teens “weren’t doing anything wrong.”

DPS spokeswoman Stef Cella said Penn will continue working with the various police agencies in “remaining vigilant and tactically ready should [a group] attempt to disrupt 40th Street or the surrounding environment.”

On Wednesday, DPS posted a notification on its website informing the public of the increased presence of Penn, Philadelphia, Drexel University and SEPTA police in the 40th Street corridor, also recommending that students avoid the area.

Not everyone was happy with how DPS issued the warning. College sophomore Julie Hoang was “upset” that she found out about the potential threat through a listserv e-mail from the Office of Admissions, where she works.

“Can you imagine what might have happened if I did not get the e-mail, and I found myself in the middle of a riot?” asked Hoang, who planned to take SEPTA from 40th Street to Chinatown Wednesday afternoon.

However, Jon Kassa, executive director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit organization that aims to prevent crime on college campuses nationwide, commended Penn for exceeding federal compliance standards for campus security reporting.

Kassa said it was the first time he heard of a mob triggering a security warning.

“How often do people get a heads-up on a possible riot? Penn is obviously exercising some good judgment here,” he added.

Kassa also highlighted the difficulty institutions have in trying to strike a balance on how to get important messages out to the community without creating “message fatigue.” He said DPS’ online warning showed a glimpse of “Penn’s overall plan to use different methods for different degrees of threats.”

Rush said Wednesday that it was never clear if the mob would actually form or turn violent, since law enforcement gets information about such mobs “third-, fourth- or fifth-hand.”

DPS has “a very detailed deployment plan for these type of events,” Rush said. “If it happens, we’re ready.”

Philadelphia Police Lieutenant Frank Vanore said officers were monitoring the situation and were ready for the mob “whenever it was, wherever it was.”

He said if SEPTA police reported large groups of young people in the SEPTA system, city police would coordinate to follow the movements wherever they went.

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