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The protection of Kevlar vests for security personnel

SafeGuard Clothing : 08 April, 2016  (Technical Article)
SafeGuard Armour provides information on the types of body armour available and what each can achieve in providing vital protection to front line security personnel
The protection of Kevlar vests for security personnel

Most Security Officers will know that despite the variety of threats they will be facing a Kevlar vest is invaluable. Security Personnel are required to work in a wide range of serious situations, and will have to be capable of dealing with a number of threats. Kevlar vests can help provide protection against attacks involving firearms and with additional materials can protect against an even greater number of weapons.

Security Personnel have to be well prepared before they can work effectively and most are well aware of the benefits body armour can provide. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what level of threat your vest can protect against, and it is important that Security Officers (SOs) understand the importance of body armour, and what exactly it can help protect them against.

Soft Armour

While the UK is fortunate enough to have lower rates of gun crime than other countries, the threat of attacks involving firearms is still very high for most SOs. If nothing else, the protection against guns is more accessible than ever and so should be considered the basic level of protection necessary for all Officers. Moreover, the nature of an SOs work requires they be prepared for all eventualities, and this certainly extends to bullets. Furthermore, protection against firearms is far lighter and thinner than ever before, and so is very easy to wear even for long periods of time.

Ballistic protection is standardised according to testing standards set by the US National Institute of Justice, the world-leader in ballistics testing. This organisation then assigns levels (NIJ Levels), so you can easily see at a glance what ammunition each level of vest can protect against. Each level of protection is capable of stopping all ammunition listed at lower levels. Level IIa armour should be considered the minimum recommended protection for body armour, as it can protect against the majority of ammunition used in handguns, including 9mm full metal jacketed round nose and .40 S&W full metal jacketed ammunition.

The next highest level, the Level II, can protect against all of this ammunition, while also providing protection against more powerful rounds like the .357 Magnum. Finally, Level IIIa armour provides protection against nearly all rounds fired from handguns, revolvers, and most semi-automatics. Level IIIa armour is the highest level of ‘soft armour’ available. ‘Soft Armour’ refers to body armour that uses Kevlar or similar materials to offer ballistic protection. While ‘Hard Armour’ will also employ these materials, it requires additional rigid plates, whereas soft armour uses only the lightweight and flexible ballistic protection afforded by fabrics like Kevlar.

Hard Armour

Unlike the flexible, lightweight armour mentioned above, ‘Hard Armour’ is heavier and inflexible because of the rigid plates it uses to provide protection. Higher level hard armours usually consist of a Kevlar vest and a rigid plate, usually made from ceramics or polyethylene, thereby providing protection against even high-powered weapons and ammunition.

Hard armour is available at NIJ Level III and IV, which is the highest available level of ballistic protection. Level III hard armour protects against 7.62mmx51mm NATO full metal jacketed rifle rounds, as well as the 5.56x45mm NATO round. Most rifle and automatic rounds are covered by the Level III, including such staples as the .30-06 and the .308 Winchester. However, the highest level of protection, the Level IV, offers protection against all these bullets, as well as armour-piercing variants.

Hard armour is heavier than soft armour, but advancements in the development of ballistic materials means that plates are thinner and lighter than ever before. This is of particular benefit for Security Personnel, who can have high level protection even in a discreet covert vest. For those working in close protection, for example, this allows them to be completely protected while still providing a professional service to the client. Of course, for most SOs this level of protection will be simply unnecessary. However, if it is needed, it is easier than ever to wear comfortably for extended periods.

Stab and Spike Vests

As already mentioned it is the role of the Security Officer to be prepared for any eventuality, and this is why it is important that they have the appropriate protection. While guns are harder to come by, weapons like knives and needles can be acquired easily by virtually everyone, and are just as deadly. A Kevlar vest cannot protect against weapons with sharp edges and points without additional materials. These stab and spike proof vests should also be considered necessary for all SOs.

These stab and spike proof vests use materials like chainmail and/or plastic laminate to provide a tough surface to stop the weapons from cutting the Kevlar or simply passing through it. These vests still remain lightweight and flexible despite these additional materials, making them easy to wear for extended periods even underneath clothing. When working in close proximity to large groups of people in particular, weapons like knives and needles are a serious threat. Just like ballistic protection, stab and spike proof vests are available at different levels according to the protection it can offer.

The testing and grading of stab and spike protection is undergone by the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST, formerly HOSDB), which is widely considered to be the world leader in the testing of edged and spiked weapons. While higher levels of stab and spike protection can stop stronger blades, the levels available largely refer to the strength behind the attack. Nevertheless, it is important to be aware that engineered blades found in weapons like hunting knives will not be stopped by the lowest levels of stab protection.

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