"Update. Police are still on the scene. No injuries reported. Stay away from Nassau Hall."
"Stay away from area. Updates to follow."
These warning messages from the Princeton Telephone and E-mail Notification System and Princeton Alert interrupted students in their usual nighttime routines last Tuesday. Reactions were swift. On the Class of 2017 Facebook page, for example, students advised others not to venture outside. Others posted reassuring messages. Links to the The Daily Princetonian’s live coverage of the investigation, news sites reporting the incident and the University's Twitter account popped up in the comments. My friends got worried calls from home, and my phone blew up as people wondered where everyone was, whether it would be safe to walk home and whether it would be in everyone’s best interests to cancel that evening’s practice.
There was, however, also an unmistakable air of skepticism among some students. While many took caution to stay indoors, others pressed on as though nothing had happened. Several teams chose not to cancel practice. Events such as residential college study breaks remained on schedule. As official updates failed to reveal anything new, impatience heightened; my friend joked that the initial report was probably a prank.
The dismissive and nonchalant attitudes I encountered on Tuesday night reminded me of my initial reaction to the earthquake that devastated the Tohoku region of Japan in March 2011. It took my orchestra class a while to even realize the room was shaking, and when we finally did, we all poked fun at our principal cellist; we deemed her dramatic reaction, which had tipped us off to the tremor, to be an unnecessary overreaction. What was another minor tremor to people who had experienced harmless ones several times a year for over a decade?
Even as the shakes continued longer than the average Tokyo mini-quake did, we maintained an air of joviality. It was exciting that after years of tedious practice runs, we finally got to experience a real evacuation drill. Some students forgot to leave their instruments inside and mimicked the scene from the Titanic where the quartet remains on board to provide uplifting music to the panicking crowd. I spotted a middle school physical education class that had evacuated from the swimming pool and was amused to see my brother getting carried away in the excitement, despite his lips having turned blue from the chill.
It took me a while to realize that tremors as long-lasting and strong as the ones we felt in Tokyo that day probably originated from an epicenter somewhere else. It took me a while to understand that somewhere out there, people could be in unimaginable danger.
The shame and guilt I felt when I watched news footage of the devastation the earthquake and subsequent tsunami left behind in towns up north were unbearable. I had always known that Japan was prone to earthquakes that could be deadly, and yet years of minor, insignificant tremors left me complacent—just like we are, here at good old Princeton.
Yes, the extent of the eventfulness of Tuesday night was the initial report. Yes, it is true that Princeton is remarkably safe. And yes, as the evening progressed, it seemed likely that there was no real danger. It was understandable that students lowered their guard.
But in a time where incidents of gun-related violence such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the shooting of Trayvon Martin have thrust the issue of gun control so prominently into the political spotlight, even we in the Orange Bubble should maintain an appropriate air of caution during a situation like that which arose on Tuesday night.
This time, nothing happened. The notion that “nothing ever happens in Princeton” was reinforced. We live in a place where the sound of a hammer hitting a chisel may be the closest thing to a gunshot we will hear.
However, we should always maintain, at the very least, caution and respect for the potential of danger. It’s easy to be lured into a sense of security and forget that accidents can happen and that real threats do exist. We never know when a warning or a report will prove true. Yes, the Orange Bubble is safe. But bubbles can pop.
Jiyoon Kim is a freshman from Tokyo, Japan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the nature of the events in Tokyo, Japan in March 2011. There was an earthquake followed by a tsunami. The 'Prince' regrets the error.