CHAPEL HILL – One of Chapel Hill’s most notable traditions is the rushing of Franklin Street after landmark basketball wins, but members of the community are tasked to make sure it occurs as safely as possible should UNC defeat Duke Saturday night.
“Well, it’s sort of like asking what happens when you in the center of a hurricane,” says proprietor of Top of the Hill Distillery Scott Maitland. “I suspect Carolina nation will be pretty excited if we win. If it all holds true to form, I suspect we’ll see a good 15,000 people dancing around on Franklin Street. A big impact in terms of downtown, but also its one of the coolest things about our community.”
Top of the Hill’s location at the center of Chapel Hill gives the restaurant a unique location at the center of the festivities. Maitland says one of his business’ main concerns is safely guiding customers to and from his restaurant and Franklin Street.
“What ends up happening is it’s sort of like a tidal situation where if we win, the tide rolls right out to Franklin Street,” says Maitland. “We need to be careful to make sure that we maintain control of when the tide starts to roll back in.”
It’s also common for people to view the celebrations from the restaurants’ balcony. As a safety precaution, Top of the Hill bans glasses on those nights.
But local businesses are not the only organizations in charge of maintaining order on Franklin Street.
Although Saturday’s matchup is expected to be closer than their prior season matchup, Public Information Sergeant of the Chapel Hill Police Department Josh Mecimore says that the competitiveness of the game is not something the Police Department takes into consideration.
“I think there is always a possibility that either team might win,” says Mecimore. “ We prepare for a Carolina win every time and if something happens and the students don’t take the streets, then we just didn’t end up needing those resources. But that’s what we prepare for—whether it looks like they might win or not.”
Mecimore says their protocol for Saturday’s game will remain largely the same as prior games.
“Our response in those games has been fairly consistent from year to year,” says Mecimore. “We have extra staffing on hand to deal with the extra crowds. We’ll work along with Public Works and the Fire Department to make sure that everything stays safe.”
The Chapel Hill Police Department usually has about 30 extra officers on duty for games between UNC and Duke.
Chapel Hill’s Interim Fire Marshal Dace Bergen says while the proper steps are taken to make sure enough staff is on hand, this is not the biggest event the Fire Department focuses on each year.
“(We won’t have) as large of a staff to support the event as we would for say if Carolina was playing for the NCAA basketball championship or for Halloween,” Bergen says.
Bergen says the Town is the deciding body when the decision is made to shut down Franklin Street for an event. He says the crowd has also taken over the street before and effectively shut it down.
Bon fires are also a cause for concern when large crowds turn up. Bergen says the fire department tries to preempt situations like that with monitoring and fire official presence.
“We’ll have people out checking the bars,” Bergen says. “We’ll have people and equipment staged in care there is a street celebration afterwards to take care of any EMS…or fire needs.”
Tipoff between North Carolina and Duke is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. You can hear all the action live on WCHL beginning with pregame coverage at 7:00 p.m. with Countdown to Tipoff.