Understanding body armor: a guide for security personnel

Understanding body armor: a guide for security personnel

Security personnel must ensure their own safety before they can hope to protect anyone else. Body armor and other forms of protective clothing are vital pieces of equipment for those working in security, due to the dangers inherent to their occupation.

When purchasing body armor, you should consider which weapons you need to protect yourself against and if you want the armor to be visible.

Types of Weapon

You may find you need to protect yourself from bullets, knives, needles, or other deadly weapons therefore you should consider the threats you are likely to face before purchasing a vest to ensure you get the best protection possible.

Bulletproof vests should be considered the basic level of protection for security personnel as they can protect your vital organs from bullets in hostile situations.

Although bulletproof vests can protect you from deadly gunfire, they cannot protect against edged blade threats such as knives due to the soft materials used. To protect against these weapons, choose a vest that specifies protection against bladed weapons.

Like edged blade weapons, spiked weapons such as needles or screwdrivers can penetrate bulletproof vests and pass through the minute fibers, rendering the vest useless. To protect against these weapons, choose a vest that specifies protection against spiked weapons.

Stab and spike-proof vests can still be bulletproof and will use the same fabric to help mitigate the impact of attacks. However, they also include a layer of chain mail and/or plastic laminate to provide a tough surface against spikes and blades.

Protection Levels

After considering the weapons you need protection from, you should consider the level of protection you need. Ballistic protection is tested and graded standards set by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The testing undergone by NIJ is considered the best in the world and their standards are grouped and known as NIJ Levels. Each level outlines exactly which threats body armor can protect you against.

Each level considers the size and strength of ammunition used in testing. For example, a Level IIa vest can stop 9mm and .357 rounds, whereas a Level IV vest (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. However, this does not mean security personnel should opt for the highest levels available instead they should select a level appropriate for the threats they are likely to face.

Just as a Level II vest will be inadequate in a situation involving high caliber weaponry, a Level IV vest may be inadequate due to its weight.

Styles of Armor

Understanding the level of protection your vest can offer is important, as it allows you to be protected against 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 are inappropriate.

Body armor is available in covert or overt styles. Covert vests are designed to be worn under clothing, whereas overt vests are worn over clothing and/or as part of a uniform. Covert and overt vests are suitable for different situations. Overt body armor can help display the authority of a security officer and deter attackers. To display this authority, it can also be equipped with high-visibility covers, logos, or insignia, as well as pouches and clips for equipment. Covert vests offer the same levels of protection and can even house rigid plates, but in a discreet style that remains comfortable. As they are designed to be worn close to the skin many covert vests feature temperature-regulating materials to help keep you cool.

Covert/overt vests can be worn in either style, offering greater versatility.

Are you considering purchasing body armor to protect yourself? Take a look at our range of covert, overt, and covert/overt vests here.