A Look into the World of Body Armor
- By Joshua Nash
- Mar 02, 2016
Ensuring your own safety is the most important aspect of working in Security. Body armor and other forms of protective clothing are vital pieces of equipment, and all Security Operatives (SOs) should be aware of their benefits. A bullet proof vest, for example, can offer a number of benefits that many are not aware of. It is far easier than ever before to equip yourself with body armor, yet there are still a number of confusing details that can make the decision harder. This is why it is so important to provide Security Operatives (SOs) with information on how body armor can best be utilized.
Levels of Protection
Perhaps the most important aspect of body armor is the protection it offers, yet many are unaware of what their armor is capable of stopping. Body armor is graded according to the protection it can offer, with different levels available according to the protection it provides. Ballistic protection is tested and graded according to standards set by the National Institute of Justice, and these ‘NIJ Levels’ outline exactly what a bullet proof vest can stop.
The testing undergone by the National Institute of Justice is largely considered to be the best in the world, and it is crucial that any body armor meets these standards. The levels set concern the size and strength of ammunition used in testing; a Level IIa vest, for example, can stop 9mm and .357 rounds, whereas a vest or plate at Level IV (the highest available level) can stop 7.62x51mm NATO rounds, even in the armor-piercing variant. Each level also incorporates all ammunition listed at lower levels, so a Level IV vest can protect against the same threats as a Level IIa.
While it may therefore seem prudent to simply have the highest level of protection possible, it is better to have protection appropriate for your situation. Just as a low level vest will be inadequate in a situation involving high caliber weaponry, for most security personnel the weight and bulk of a high level tactical vest will only be a burden, particularly if the likelihood of attacks involving such weapons is low.
On the other hand, there may be situations where security personnel need this high level of protection. If you are going to be working in extreme situations where there is the threat of high caliber weaponry or explosives, you will need high grade protection. The highest levels of protection can only be achieved with rigid ‘hard armor’ plates made of ceramics or polyethylene. However, these plates are still light enough to be worn comfortably even in covert armor. Where possible your armor should be as lightweight and thin as possible, meaning hard armor should only be used when necessary.
Different Styles of Armor
Understanding the level of protection your vest can offer is important, as it allows you to be protected against the most likely threats without being overburdened. However, it is just as important to consider how you will wear your vest, as there will be situations where overt or Tactical vests for example are inappropriate.
Body armor can be split into roughly two styles; covert and overt. Covert armor is designed to be worn under clothing, whereas overt armor is worn over clothing and/or as a part of a uniform. There are vests which can be worn in either style, offering you greater versatility. Both covert and overt vests have their advantages and disadvantages, and will be suitable for different situations.
Security operatives working with members of the public, or in any situation where they need to display their authority, will most likely want an overt vest. These help display the SOs authority as it signals a preparedness that can help deter potential attackers. Furthermore, overt vests can be augmented with logos and insignia, as well as high-visibility covers. For those working in site security, for example, this can make armor a useful part of a uniform, and will help put the public’s mind at ease.
However, in more sensitive environments where discretion is necessary, this overt protection will be inappropriate. Some have argued that overt vests can in fact increase the likelihood of an attack. Whatever the reason, a covert vest can provide the same levels of protection to SOs, even against high-caliber ammunition. Moreover, many covert vests are specially designed to help regulate temperature, making them comfortable even though they are worn closer to the skin.
Bullet proof vests should be considered the basic level of protection for all security personnel. However, it may be that firearms are not the only threat, and there are a variety of other weapons readily available that can be just as deadly, and often far easier to use.
Many people are not aware that a bullet proof vest, while very adept at providing protection, cannot protect against all weapons. Specifically, any weapons with a sharp edge or point will not be stopped by a bullet resistant vest. This is because the soft fabrics used in a bullet proof vest can be cut or bypassed by these weapons, rendering the vest useless. Stab and spike proof vests will still use these soft fabrics, however, as they help reduce the strength of an impact.
Protection against weapons like these should be considered by all security personnel, particularly those working in close quarters with the public or in closed environments. Stab and spike proof vests can still be bullet proof, and will use the same fabric to help mitigate the impact of attacks using edged or spiked weapons. However, they will also include a layer of chainmail and/or plastic laminate to provide a tough surface for these soft materials.
Security operatives work in some very challenging environments, and find themselves dealing with all manner of dangerous situations. Your protection is the first priority, as no-one can be expected to perform properly without protection. Most SOs are well aware of this; however, ensuring that you understand the intricacies of body armor and exactly how it offers you protection is vital to ensure that you are not working in these environments without being safe.