Body Armor 101
Q: How does ballistic-resistant body armor work?
A: When a bullet strikes a body armor panel, the fibers absorb and disperse the energy of the impact across a generalized area. Most concealable body armor is made of a number of layers. These layers assist in the energy dispersion process and help to reduce the effects of blunt trauma, caused by the force of the impacting projectile.
Q: How does stab- and puncture-resistant body armor work?
A: Stab- and puncture-resistant armors are made from a variety of materials. The most commonly used materials are made from extremely strong fibers, which can be either woven or laminated together. Other materials used are metals and composites. As the threat impacts the armor, the materials either deflect the threat or, due to their very high level of cut and/or tear resistance, they "stretch" and the impact forces are dissipated over a larger area of the armor.
Q: What types of materials are used to make body armor?
A: Body armor can be made from a number of different types of woven or non-woven materials. One of the first fibers used for modern ballistic-resistant material was Kevlar® , which is made by DuPont. Other materials include Spectra® , made by Honeywell (formerly AlliedSignal); Twaron® , made by Accordis (formerly Akzo Nobel). These materials are manufactured in a variety of styles and can be woven or non-woven (laminated). Hard (non-fabric) armor plates can be made from a number of materials, including metals, ceramics and other composite materials.
Q: Which ballistic- or stab-resistant material is better?
A: The NIJ Standards for Personal Body Armor (Ballistic and Stab/Puncture Resistant) establish minimum performance requirements to evaluate specific designs, or "models" of armor. The standard is not intended to be a design specification, which would require manufacturers to use a specific type of material and/or design pattern to achieve a required level of protection. Instead, by measuring only the performance capabilities of the model, this allows armor manufacturers the ability to innovate by using any type or combination of types of materials, as well as design methods, to achieve the required level of protection
Q: What new technologies have been developed for body armor?
A: Over the last 20 years, new materials and fabrics have been introduced that have contributed significantly to the wearability of body armor. Additionally, a number of advances have been made in design technology, resulting in body armor with increased ballistic protection capabilities, more flexibility, less weight and ultimately, more comfort. New materials have also been developed to provide protection against sharp-edged and pointed weapons.
Q: What type and threat level of armor should I wear?
A: First, assess the type of threat you face on a daily basis. Review data from shooting incidents in your area, as well as the types of weapons (firearms, knives, etc.) being confiscated from suspects. Also factor in what type of sidearm and duty ammunition you are carrying — FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data indicates that approximately 1 in 6 officers killed in the line of duty are shot with their own weapon. Other considerations are the climate in which you work, typical duty assignment, and personal preference considerations (comfort and fit).
Q: What are trauma plates?
A: Trauma plates are devices that can be added to the vest over a localized area (most commonly the mass center of the torso) to increase the wearer's protection against blunt-trauma injuries. Blunt-trauma injuries are caused by the impact forces of the bullet against the armor, resulting in non-penetrating internal injuries, such as bruises, broken ribs or other injuries to internal organs. Trauma plates can be made of a hard substance, such as metal wrapped in rubber or ballistic fabric, or they can be made of additional layers of ballistic fabric, similar to an armor panel. Some manufacturers even build trauma plates into the armor panel itself.
Q: What is the best way to care for body armor?
A: Follow the manufacturer's care instructions provided with your armor or refer to the instructions on the armor labels. Failure to follow these instructions may damage the ballistic performance capabilities of the armor. In general, when you are not wearing your body armor, it should be stored flat in a cool, dry place. The carrier should be hand-washed frequently and the panel should be wiped with a damp cloth as needed. Body armor should be inspected regularly for wear, set wrinkles and damage.
Q: How long does body armor last?
A: There are a number of factors that can influence the service life of body armor. The NIJ has sponsored research that indicates that age is not the only factor in determining the service life of armor. Other factors to consider include: how regularly the armor was worn; how it was cared for; if the armor fits the wearer properly (most people lose or gain weight over a period of years); and the overall condition of the armor (do the fasteners still work properly and so on). We encourage departments to have a routine inspection program for body armor, just as they would for weapons, vehicles, and other types of issued equipment.
Q: Which manufacturer makes the best body armor?
A: The NIJ Standards for Personal Body Armor (Ballistic and Stab/Puncture Resistant) and the voluntary compliance testing programs operated by NLECTC exist to ensure that models of armor offered for sale to law enforcement and corrections personnel are safe, reliable, and meet minimum performance requirements. The NIJ provides a complete listing of all models that have been tested and found to comply with the NIJ Standard. You can access this list through www.justnet.org.
Q: How do I learn about purchasing body armor?
A: The *NIJ Guide 100-01: Selection and Application Guide to Police Body Armor contains important information to assist agencies and individual officers in selecting, purchasing, and caring for body armor. Also, funds are available through the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act (BVPGA), administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to assist law enforcement and corrections agencies with the purchase of ballistic and stab-resistant armor. The BVPGA will provide funds to pay for up to half of the purchase price of models of armor found to comply with NIJ Standards. For more information on how to apply for these funds, visit the BVPGA web site at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bvpbasi/.
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