(DR BONES SAYS: From time to time, we post articles from aspiring writers in the field of medical preparedness. This time, our guest author is Chris Taylor of SAFEGUARD body armor who gives a top ten countdown of important things to know about ballistic protection. And now, Chris’s article ).
Preparedness is no easy task; it requires an understanding of the situations you will find yourself in and the methods by which you can survive them. The most important thing to safeguard is your safety, as only by being properly protected can you keep yourself alive.
10.) Body Armor is Available for Everyone
Body armor usually conjures up images of high-visibility protective vests worn by the Police, or ultra-protective tactical armor worn by SWAT teams and the Military. Similarly, many assume that these products are difficult to obtain, and are only reserved for these people. While there are some restrictions on how body armor may be purchased and used in some areas (check local regulations before you purchase), body armor is available for anyone to purchase and wear. Indeed, anyone who faces the threat of attack or injury should consider a protective vest, as it could help save their life.
As we’ve seen above, body armor refers to a wide range of protective clothing; everything from stab proof vests to helmets is considered body armor, and it can be difficult to know exactly what you need and what you are getting. The products can be loosely grouped into ‘soft armors’ and ‘hard armors’, depending on the materials they use to offer protection. However, within each of these groupings there are variations that need to be considered.
8.) Different threats mean different protection…
These variations exist in order to combat different threats, as certain weapons or attacks require different materials to provide protection. For example, bullet proof vests cannot protect against many stab wounds, which cannot protect against spike attacks like ice picks. Similarly, ‘soft’ bullet proof vests cannot protect against high-velocity ammunition. To add to the confusion, many vests meant to protect injury from sharp objects also come with ballistic protection. While this will be discussed later, it is important first to know what threats you need protection against; if you will be facing rifles, you need armor with rigid plates. If you will be facing edged weapons, you need armor with stab protection. If you are facing spiked weapons, you need spike protection. All of these protections can be found in addition to ballistic protection.
However, even a bullet proof vest is not completely bullet proof. There is no such thing as complete protection against a bullet, particularly when bullets come in all shapes and sizes. A bullet proof vest will certainly increase your chances of surviving an attack involving a firearm, but it should never replace caution and diligence.
While no vest can offer 100% guarantee against bullets, vests at different levels offer some assurance against certain ammunition types. Ballistic protection is tested and graded by the National Institute of Justice, which assigns ‘levels’ to bullet proof vests. These NIJ Levels outline exactly what threats a vest can protect against. This means that vests at lower levels cannot protect against higher caliber ammunition, whereas higher levels can offer greater protection. The highest level of ‘soft armor’ available is Level IIIa, which will protect against the vast majority of handgun ammunition. The highest level of ballistic protection available is Level IV, which is only achievable with rigid plates, and can protect against even armor-piercing ammunition.
Many do not know exactly how a bullet proof vest provides protection, and understanding how the materials involved work helps distinguish between the different levels and types available. ‘Soft armor’ uses fabrics like Kevlar, which have an incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio. This allows them to trap bullets and disperse their energy, slowing them to a complete stop. These materials are lightweight and flexible, allowing them to be worn even under clothing. Higher levels, however, need rigid plates that use materials like Ceramics and Polyethylene, which are incredibly strong and even deflect or absorb bullets. These plates are much thicker and heavier, and yet still light enough to be worn in covert vests.
4.) Different Styles
In addition to being split along numerous protective lines, body armor can also be found in ‘covert’ and ‘overt’ styles. This means that a vest is designed either to be worn under clothes or over clothes. Covert armor offers discreet protection at all levels, and can even use rigid plates. Some covert vests are even designed to help keep the wearer cool. On the other hand, overt vests are worn over clothing and have more variety in the materials used and the extras available. For example, overt vests can use waterproof and high-visibility covers, and can be equipped with additional pockets and clips, as well as logos and insignia.
3.) Proper fitting
It may sound obvious, but ensuring your vest fits you properly is just as important as ensuring you have the right level of protection and style. In a hostile situation, freedom of movement is very important, and you need to be comfortable in order to perform to the best of your ability. Body armor should be comfortable enough to be worn for extended periods, meaning you don’t have to worry about your protection. Armor that does not fit properly may also have gaps in protection, leaving you vulnerable. Many vests are fully adjustable, but making sure you have the right size is very important.
Just as important is keeping your armor well maintained. Many do not realize that body armor and the materials used only have a limited lifespan, and without proper maintenance, this will be reduced dramatically. Vests need to be cleaned regularly and stored correctly, just like all clothing. The carrier, which is the vest itself, can usually be machine washed and often only consists of materials like cotton. The protective inserts, on the other hand, should only be cleaned with a mild cleaning agent and a gentle sponge, to avoid causing damage to the protection. Armor should be stored out of sunlight, should not be crumpled, and should have nothing stored on top of it. Moreover, all vests should be inspected regularly, and if any damage or deformity is found, you should replace your armor immediately. Many manufacturers recommend having multiple carriers to ensure you always have clean armor to wear.
1.) Wear it
The most important thing to know about a vest is that it can only protect you when it is worn. Again, this seems obvious, but all too often people are injured or even killed despite owning body armor. Choosing the right vest and keeping it well-maintained is important, but unless you wear it when it is needed, it cannot protect you.