The Friend Center, the Computer Science Building, 185 Nassau Street — which houses the Lewis Center for the Arts — 41 William Street — the location of the Princeton University Press and the Program in Teacher Preparation — and 199/201 Nassau Street were evacuated. Princeton Borough Police Captain Nicholas Sutter said in an email that there were no injuries as a result of the incident.
According to Sutter, a construction worker digging in the southwest corner of William Street at the intersection with Charlton Street reportedly struck a two-inch gas main, cutting the line and causing a leak. An investigation was prompted when a police officer in the area detected the odor of natural gas at 1:13 p.m.
The University was notified immediately. Faculty members teaching classes in these buildings were alerted of the evacuation by the Princeton Telephone and Email Notification System.
The Princeton Fire Department and the gas and electric utility company PSE&G responded. The fire department ordered the evacuation of all buildings within a half-block vicinity of the scene, and safety officials activated the fire alarms in buildings to ensure occupants were evacuated.
The University Department of Public Safety assisted with the evacuation of University buildings while the Borough Police cleared all other buildings within the evacuation zone.
While the University was asked to evacuate buildings within 265 feet of the core leak, Assistant Vice President for Communications Lauren Ugorji ’85 said that the University “exercised an abundance of caution” and evacuated buildings within a 275-foot radius. The University assessed the gas leak report before sending the notification via PTENS.
“In dealing with gas leaks on the ‘outside of buildings,’ the standard procedure of the fire department is to inspect basements in and about the area to make sure gas did not travel and build up,” Public Safety Captain Donald Reichling explained in an email.
Because gas travels along the ground and seeks low-lying areas, the concern was that gas would build up in the basements, thus becoming a hazard in the presence of an ignition.
Reichling said that students outside the building “were in no danger.”
PSE&G capped the leak at 2:04 p.m. The fire department inspected the buildings, making sure that the gas did not build up in the basements, and the University buildings were reopened at 2:28 p.m. Public Safety remained on the scene until 2:31 p.m.
The Borough Police closed Charlton and William streets to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Some students left after being evacuated from the affected buildings. Austin Walker ’13, who was in an EGR 277: Technology and Society lecture in Friend 101, left the area after waiting outside Friend for 15 minutes.
“At that point there was no indication that it was going to be safe to go back inside any time soon, so I decided that I could probably find something better to do than stand around and wait,” Walker explained in an email. He noted that some smaller classes relocated to nearby buildings.
It took longer for some other classes to be notified. Alex Judge ’14 was in MSE 301: Materials Science and Engineering, taught in the basement of the Friend Center, during the evacuation. The class members were not evacuated immediately but instead were notified of the evacuation when they heard the sounds of activity emanating from another room.
“We kind of just assumed that if that were the case, somebody would come into our room as well, but when nobody did, we just continued on with class,” Judge said in an email.
Eventually, the fire alarm sounded throughout the building and alerted the students to evacuate to the lawn outside the building. The students waited for 30 to 40 minutes before being allowed back inside to resume class, Judge said.