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Choosing the right body armour

SafeGuard Armour : 15 February, 2016  (Special Report)
SafeGuard Armour explains the different types of body armour available and what factors influence choices of armour made by security operatives
Choosing the right body armour

One of the most important attributes any Security Operative needs is awareness; while working, a Security Operative (SO) needs to be aware of everything around them and ready to react accordingly. This awareness should also extend to their preparation for a job, ie understanding what is expected of them, and being aware of the options available to them in order to help them do their work.

This awareness and understanding should extend to body armour, which every SO will likely see as an important piece of equipment. In a position where you are expected to guarantee someone’s safety and potentially fend off attacks, keeping yourself protected is paramount. Therefore, body armour will be needed. However, as most SOs will know, body armour covers a wide range of products, from stab vests to helmets, and it is important to ensure you have the right protection for your role.

Ballistic Protection

The most important thing for an SO to be aware of is the levels of protection available in body armour, and exactly what each can protect you against. The common image of body armour is of ‘soft armour’, which is made primarily of Kevlar or other strong fabrics. These vests are incredibly lightweight and flexible, yet capable of providing enormous protection.

All armour is tested and graded according to the level of threat it is capable of stopping. The highest level of soft armour available is NIJ Level IIIa, which is capable of protecting against the vast majority of handgun ammunition, including .44 Magnums for example. The NIJ, or National Institute of Justice, is widely recognised as being the world leader in ballistics testing, and is responsible for the standardisation of body armour testing.

Ballistic protection is important for all SOs to consider, particularly those working in hostile environments like Maritime Security Operatives do. Maritime environments carry the very real risks of Pirates and heavily armed attackers, which naturally need to be countered. A bullet resistant vest is an easy way to bolster one’s security, and can spell the difference between life and death.

A Variety of Threats

On the other hand, ballistic protection is not the be-all and end-all of body armour and many SOs will be lucky enough not to need it. We are fortunate in the UK to have very little threat from firearms, and while the danger may still be present for SOs, it is more likely that a different kind of weapon will be used in an attack. While knives and needles may seem less threatening than a gun, they are just as deadly, and far more accessible.

Many are not aware that ballistic protection is designed for bullets and bullets only. While it can and will absorb the energy of any impact, it cannot stop edged or spiked weapons like knives and needles. These can merely cut or pass through the protective fabric used in soft armour, rendering the wearer defenceless. Stab and spike proof vests will often be found in conjunction with ballistic protection, for the reasons outlined above, but with additional materials like chainmail and/or laminate which create a tough surface to stop the handheld weapons.

This will be of particular importance to those working in Close Protection, who may find those in close contact with members of the public and large crowds. Working as the ‘bodyguard’ for a public figure for example will put the SO in close proximity with people who could easily cause otherwise fatal damage. A stab and spike proof vest will negate this completely.

Different Styles of Vest

The additional materials used in a stab or spike proof vest will naturally increase the weight and thickness of a vest, and for some this is a good reason to have lower levels of protection. However, the protective materials used in body armour are lighter and thinner than ever before, and so even at high levels of protection a vest can be worn discreetly.

This is again important to those working in Close Protection, who may need to remain discreet, but cannot sacrifice their own protection. A covert vest is designed to be worn under clothing, close to the skin, and offers a useful solution. These vests are usually slightly lighter and thinner than their overt counterparts, but are still available at the same levels of protection. Some also come with additional materials that help control the temperature of the wearer.

On the other hand, some SOs will be working in an environment where discretion is not needed. Those working in Site Security, perhaps at a construction site, will want to display their authority. Overt vests are designed to be worn over clothing and form part of a uniform. This is achieved through high-visibility covers, logos and insignia, and even pouches for additional equipment. This makes an overt vest very useful for any SO, and can even help deter attackers.

For those working in extremely high risk situations, a covert vest is simply unnecessary. However, a simple overt vest may not be sufficient either. Tactical armour is the only option when working in active warzones, perhaps guarding oil and gas supplies. These vests are naturally overt in nature, but come with additional protection for the head, neck, throat, upper arm, and groin. Furthermore, they often come with rigid plates that are capable of stopping even armour-piercing ammunition.

As we have seen, there are numerous options available to SOs, and all of them have their own advantages and disadvantages; tactical armour is far too bulky and cumbersome for Close Protection, and a covert vest provides no tactical advantage to those working in Site Protection. Whatever your choice in body armour is, it has to reflect your own preparation and experience, and has to be suited for the environments you are working and the threats you will face.

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