Straight from a Hollywood movie, zombies visit Bournemouth

Apocalypse, in an underground car park
Student actors dressed to kill for the zombie apocalypse simulation in Bournemouth. Photo: Gokul Aanandh Bhoopathy

More than 300 students and health professionals in Bournemouth responded to an extraordinary event straight out of a horror movie last week: a zombie apocalypse.

The scenario, staged at an underground car park near the Old Fire Station, wasn’t meant to predict the future. Instead, it aimed to expose participants — paramedic and nursing students, supported by professionals — to the kinds of challenges they might encounter in any mass casualty event, complete with simulated injuries and screaming ‘victims’.

“It is part of a two-day exercise,” said Adam Bancroft, an academic at Bournemouth University, who served as the incident commander for the exercise. “It is focusing them on what they do when they are faced with multiple challenges. It’s more to do with when incidents happen to multiple people all at once.”

While attacks involving zombies may be a stretch of the imagination, the ‘major incident’ simulated as a consequence of it is very much a reality, dealt with by paramedics and other emergency staff across the country. Una Brosnan, the simulation lead for the exercise, said she had written the exercises based on real-life situations.

“You can’t get something like this in the classroom,” said Caitlin Higginson-Cole, a paramedic student. “In the role we are going into, you can come across this any time. Making it all so realistic is really beneficial, because you really get into the zone, and you have to think on your feet.”

The exercise, which began at 10:00 am on Wednesday, saw groups of students with basic emergency equipment entering the underground car park of Studland House to be confronted with multiple casualties with varying levels of injuries. They had to triage, and deal with victims quickly, as they would in a real-life situation.

A ‘victim’ of the zombie attack being made up by an Arts University student. Photo: Gokul Aanandh Bhoopathy

“It helps us practice for what we would see on the roads,” said student paramedic Tom Kirkpatrick. “It helps us get prepared for that kind of situation that nobody ever wants to be in.”

The apocalypse training took several months to organise and saw a collaboration between Bournemouth University and the Arts University Bournemouth. It began with special effects make-up in the Old Fire Station, to transform actors into ‘victims’.

Verona McDonald, an Arts University student, said she spent two months preparing for this event, designing, sculpturing, and modelling props.

“It’s been stressful, but it was really good fun,” McDonald said. “It was good educational opportunity from my makeup perspective, to work with a different context.”

Colin Weston MBE JP, High Sheriff of Dorset, said such exercises offered critical practice opportunities for paramedics and nursing students. “This is a key part of their training,” he said. “Not only that, this joins all the universities together.”

The training saw the involvement of health professionals from the South West Ambulance Service, South Central Ambulance Service, South East Coast Ambulance Service, Wiltshire Ambulance Service, and Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance Service. The professionals, all volunteers, guided the students as they attended to the victims.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” said Weston. “It’s as real as it gets.”

Additional reportage: Gokul Aanandh Bhoopathy

Unreal (multimedia feature)
Training with the zombies (podcast)

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