An overview of body armour for the Security industry.

It is important that Security Operatives are aware of their surroundings, and aware of the equipment they need. During their work a Security Operative (SO) needs to be aware of everything around them and ready to react accordingly. However, it is just as important for SOs to be aware of the equipment they will need and to prepare accordingly.

This awareness and understanding should extend to body armour, which every SO will likely see as an important piece of equipment. It is important, first and foremost, that SOs keep themselves protected, as this is the only way they can perform to the best of their ability. 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 first thing to be aware of when looking at body armour is the protection available to you, and what each level of protection 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

Of course, for many SOs a ballistic vest will simply not be needed. We are fortunate in the UK to have very little threat from firearms, but SOs will know that attacks, violence, and weaponry are still very present, and need to be addressed. Weapons like knives and needles may seem less threatening than a gun, but are just as deadly, and far more accessible.

It is not common knowledge that a bullet proof vest cannot protect you against spiked and edged weapons. Ballistic protection can keep you safe against a wide variety of threats, but for weapons like knives and needles you will need a different kind of protection. These weapons 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 themselves 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 help negate this threat and keep you protected.

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.

For those working in Close Protection this is of particular importance, as they must stay discreet without sacrificing their own protection. Covert vests are designed to be worn underneath clothing, and so are very useful for these situations. These vests are often thinner and slightly lighter than overt vests, 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. For those working in Site Security, perhaps at a construction site, it is important to display their authority and communicate to everyone their official capacity as Security Operative. An Overt vest worn over clothing can form a useful 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.