As strange as that may sound, there is a very good chance that you, or one of your fellow officers, will go on duty tonight wearing body armor that may provide far less ballistic protection than expected.
Modern body armor is designed to protect the wearer from deadly high-velocity handgun rounds using a sophisticated combination of bullet-stopping materials, strategies and tactics.
From the moment a bullet tears through an officer’s uniform shirt at supersonic speed, it engages several different layers of an amazing “ballistic sandwich” engineered to take on many different roles during an extremely violent ballistic event that takes place–from beginning to end–within 3 nanoseconds. All in a distance of less than two inches. A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second (1/1,000,000,000), so all of this interaction with the bullet and the vest is happening very very quickly.
In fact, Safariland’s body armor engineers use ultra-high speed digital photography to slow this incredibly destructive event down to the point where they can study, frame-by-frame, how each layer of material and individual vest component interacts with the bullet during each phase of the ballistic event. Unimaginable forces are created by these devastating impacts, and they are being transmitted through, and absorbed by, your vest’s ballistic panel and your upper torso.
Concealable body armor is designed to both stop bullets and reduce serious injury in a multi-step process:
Armor panels must first slow and deform the projectile, blunting its tip and increasing its footprint.
Since bullets also spin and violently twist anything in their path, engineers then seek to engage and entangle them with as many high-strength ballistic fibers as possible. That blunting and entangling action “catches” the bullet in a net-like fashion, ultimately slowing and stopping it.
In addition, the vest panel must keep the bullet and the back of the vest panel from protruding (in a net or trampoline-like fashion) deep into an officer’s muscle tissue and chest cavity (called backface deformation). Currently the new NIJ Standard and federally mandated backface limit is 44mm or 1.73 inches.
Finally, the panel must also absorb and dampen the resulting shock wave, which by itself is capable of tearing skin, breaking bones and damaging organs (backface trauma injuries).
The resulting multi-material (hybrid), multi-layered vest panel designs (ballistic sandwiches) are often patented and considered closely guarded trade secrets. Safariland alone offers many patented constructions and innovative approaches to solving these ballistic protection challenges.
Unfortunately, these highly sophisticated panel structures are usually directional in nature. That means if they were shot from the opposite or back side, the complex methods they use to stop bullets and protect officers become all but useless.
So, wearing vest panels in the proper strikeface/body-side orientation is a serious life and death issue. Federal requirements are already in place to make sure all NIJ compliant vests are properly labeled to indicate which side is which. Unfortunately, many officers still don’t take the time to read the labels and double-check their vests.
So, the next time you wash your vest carrier and head back to work after a few days off, take a moment to read the label on your vest panels to be absolutely sure the strikeface side of your panels are facing the bad guys. It could save your life.