Want to know what will happen to you if there is a chemical spill or a zombie apocalypse? Read on.
Bleary-eyed students stumble through the doors, slowly filling the room where lines of rackety chairs have been set up facing a white screen with the words “Project November Rain.”
Dull eyes light up and home on the box of free chocolate bars and water bottles.
Most here are psychology students participating in the study for course accreditation, or, more widely, the £20 high-street voucher offered in return.
We are going to go through the process of a decontamination shower, and answer a survey about it. It sounds quite simple.
Variations of “I’m skint so I’m here for the £20 voucher” echoed around the overly-lit room, until a man arrives to tell us that the presentation would start in five minutes. No one could have predicted what was going to happen next.
Imagine you are waiting in a crowded lecture theatre for a lecture to begin. Whilst you are waiting an announcement plays over the loud speakers of the lecture theatre. You are told that a suspicious package has been delivered to the building. You’re told that the package contains a suspicious substance and you’re asked to remain in the building until further notice. After some time Emergency Responders wearing protective equipment enter the lecture theatre. They direct you and others in the lecture theatre to move outside. As you leave the building, you hear sirens, and the Fire and Rescue Service arrive at the scene. You notice that all the Emergency Responders are wearing hazard protection suits. Fire and Rescue Service crew members move everyone into an area a little way away from the lecture building and ask people not to leave the scene. Other members of the Fire and Rescue Service are setting up a decontamination shower a short way away and are directing people towards it. As you are moved closer to the decontamination tent, you see others who were involved in the incident undressing as they are about to go through the decontamination shower. You realise that you will be expected to remove your clothes before going through the shower. A crowd has formed around the decontamination shower and onlookers are watching the decontamination process take place.
Men in big, inflated blue suits enter the room and point us towards the exit, herding us. Either they are unable to talk through their protective suits, or they have been instructed not to, because they were not communicating verbally with us. We grab our belongings and follow these scarily silent balloon men.
Among nervous giggles and chatter we arrive at a car park, where large orange boxes are laid out in a row. Three read “Medium Adult” and one reads “Large Adult.” Intuitively people start picking up the unidentified orange packs in the boxes, still lacking any instructions or human interaction with the balloon men.
A large and very long green and yellow tent looms in the middle of the car park. We stand around, helpless, clueless, pack in hand, for a few minutes, until a voice rings out on a loud speaker.
“We suspect you have been contaminated and we want you to undergo a decontamination shower. Please undress and put on the replacement clothing in the packs provided,” boomed that kind of neutralised but authoritative voice that you hear in train stations and such places.
Chaos and confusion ensued as the plastic on the packs was torn apart, revealing an assortment of the strangest clothing I have ever seen. We all fumble around with the objects until we find the instructions. Wipe your face with the antibacterial cloth then blow your nose in it. Put on gloves. Or was that first?
Once I have completed all the steps that could be done without removing my clothes, I look around to make sure I wouldn’t be the first to strip off. Some dauntless young women are already in their bikinis, so I start to undress. I can only wonder what passers-by must have thought seeing a group of (mostly female) young students stripping down to their swimsuits in a car park on a rainy day in November. But it was about to get weirder.
We put on huge orange ponchos with long woolly grey grandpa socks. The cherry on the pie is the pair of shoes, which are hard black plastic plimsolls, and are much too small for me to fit my foot in. As a result the backs of the shoes cut painfully into the underside of my feet, as the plastic just won’t bend.
We shove our belongings into big plastic bags which we seal with a strap.
I don’t think I have ever felt so ridiculous as I did during those fifteen minutes we were standing there waiting for the shower, surveyed by blue balloon men and filmed by the organising team. Orange poncho, woolly grey socks, knobbly shoes, bright blue plastic gloves and a white mask.
Finally, more instructions. We were starting to get desperate, thinking it was a conspiracy to see how long we would stand around being filmed looking like idiots before taking action.
“The decontamination shower is ready. Please enter in groups of five when the alarm sounds and the green man lights up. Wash yourself, and proceed to the next stage of the shower when you hear the alarm again.”
Ten people go in the tent, five on each side. Yelps and screams emerge from it. I’m praying the water is warm.
It’s my turn on the second round. First, we remove our “clothing.” Steam is coming from the enclosure ahead of us, and I can see naked feet from under the separation. The horrible alarm sounds and we bustle into the next section. Water comes at me from every direction. It gets in my eyes. It gets in my ears. The three girls behind me seem just as bewildered as I am.The young Asian man in front of me is going about his way in a very orderly and determined fashion, so I start copying him and scrub myself with my hands.
Once I get used to the positioning of the water jets, it’s not that unpleasant. The water is warm and smells nice.
The pleasantness is snatched away from us after a few minutes, as the alarm rings again and we move to the next section. It’s cold. Why did I ever think a public shower in November was a good idea? We scramble about as new packs of clothing are pushed next to our feet under the separation by the Fire and Rescue team. More chaos and confusion. There is a piece of fabric that I can only guess we were meant to use as a towel.
Now we dress in thin blue fabric trousers and matching jacket. It was too late when I noticed the attractive pair of granny pants. A sanitary pad falls on the floor as I pick up my pack, which steels me a little, hammering home just how terrifying and embarrassing the experience would be in a real life situation.
I don’t have the heart to tell the guy in front of me that he has done it the wrong way round by putting the plastic jacket and trousers on before the fabric ones and can’t bear to think how uncomfortable he must be.
We emerge from the tent and I can’t tell if we’ve been in there for hours or seconds. The Fire and Rescue team seem to be having a hard time not laughing at our faces when we come out, sopping wet and with clothes pulled on in a hurry.
Personally, I feel battered and tired and cannot wait to eat one of the five chocolate bars I snuck into my bag when no one was looking. We are led back to our belongings, where we can finally have some privacy and get dressed in individual pods.
“Do you feel clean after the shower?” was one of the questions on the survey. Why yes, yes I do.
The experience was not helped by the fact that I had been watching The Apprentice and had the Dance of the Knights stuck in my head during the whole thing.