“For there is never trouble within our orange bubble”: So goes the Princeton Triangle Club anthem, reflecting popular sentiment about living on campus as students enjoy the illusion of a secluded, protected community.  

But in the early-morning hours of March 7, the Princeton telephone and e-mail notification system (PTENS) sent an emergency alert to the campus community: “Unconfirmed report of a student-age male carrying a weapon in area of Spelman.” A lockdown was enforced; the message emphasized “this is not a test.”

It turned out that there was no threat; the alert was triggered by a student running through campus carrying an imitation assault rifle. Forty-two minutes after the initial alert, a second message was sent that “Public Safety has issued an all-clear.” The student later was charged with weapons-related charges by borough police.  

The incident was unsettling for many students, however. A female junior living in Scully Hall described the message as “really ominous … it didn’t tell us specifics, like a [type of] weapon or a physical description.” Alarm spread through eating clubs and residential colleges: Alex Kim ’12, who had been at the Wilson blackbox theater, was one of many students who reported they were “honestly really scared.”

Eddie Skolnick ’11 felt “promptly notified” by PTENS. Brenda Jin ’10 praised Public Safety’s ability to “get the message out, while adding that “this situation is probably every student’s worst nightmare.”

Other students were concerned about the time lapse between the initial report to Public Safety – at 11:24 p.m – and the issuance of the first alert at 12:42 a.m.  

University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96 explained the delay in an e-mail, citing the potential for misreading a threat and the University’s “history of dealing with fake guns.” Lisa Burkholder ’10 said the University “should have been trying to verify the report, not trying to prove it wrong.”

Erica Greil ’10, the student who called in the first report of a person carrying a weapon, also disagreed with Cliatt. Greil said she could “definitely tell it wasn’t a water gun or Nerf gun.” She immediately e-mailed the Triangle Club listserv, a note that spread to the Twitter microblogging system before the PTENS alert arrived.  

“Raising an alert is not taken lightly,” Cliatt said. Jin agreed, saying that the “potential for abuse is huge.” Yet Zachary Walker ’10 expressed the views of many students, explaining, “I know that I’d want to be vigilant if there was even a vague possibility of something wrong."