Wearing ballistic vests


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can be expensive to buy. However, body armour and ballistic vests can be rented for the duration of your assignment and will stop certain bullets (rounds) if they are fired at the areas of your body which are protected and can save lives. 

The most common weapon used by counter-insurgents and in conflict areas is the AK-47 assault rifle and its derivatives. AK-47s use 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition (which is different from that used by Nato forces) of variable quality and consistency. AK-47 ammunition may also be armour piercing.

Ballistic vests will stop certain bullets if they are fired at the areas of your body which are protected and can save lives. However, ballistic vests/body armour/flak jackets do not take the place of good planning and a proper risk assessment process.

They are bullet proof depending on the calibre and muzzle velocity of the bullet. Donot allow your ballistic vest to lull you into a false sense of security. It is better not to put yourself in the position where you are being shot at or shelled.

There are two main types of vest: soft vests and soft vests with plates. The former is made from many layers of woven or laminated fibres. It is capable of protecting the wearer from small calibre handgun and shotgun projectiles as well as small fragments from explosives such as hand grenades. The latter has plates which are usually made from ceramic or polyethylene. These plates are inserted into the pockets of a soft vest and the plates will provide additional protection from rifle rounds. There is often a groin protector, which can be dropped to cover this area when required.

The soft vest will provide resistance to stab and slash attacks from knives and similar close quarter weapons. They also offer good protection against shrapnel and objects such as bricks and bottles.

The plates must only be worn with the vest for which they were designed. This is vital as they are designed to absorb the high energy impact of ballistic rounds and stabs. The plates must never be worn on their own and both plates must be inserted to provide protection.

Look after your ballistic vest as the plates must not be dropped or they will crack and not work when you want them to. Do not throw your vest into the back of vehicles or drop them on the floor. When travelling think about taking the plates out and packing them in amongst soft clothing to protect them. When you insert the plates if you see the words ‘strike face’, ensure that this is facing outwards, away from your body.

This is a plate which has been shot at and saved the person'’s life. If you are shot at and the bullets hit the plate you may experience serious bruising, may be badly winded and may even have some broken ribs. 

Soft vests, which are often easier to hide, are commonly worn by journalists doing undercover work or working in riots. Soft vests with plates should be worn in conflict areas or where there is no need to be covert.

Ballistic vests only cover the torso (which houses your vital organs) so the head is extremely vulnerable without a helmet. Make sure you wear a helmet to protect your head. Helmets will not stop bullets but may deflect them.

The specifications for ballistic vests are shown by a system of numbers with NIJ in front of them. The normal specifications are as follows:

a. Covert body armour (soft vests): armour NIJ level Type IIIA

b. Conflict zone body armour (soft vests with plates): armour NIJ level Type III

c. If you believe armour piercing bullets will be used, you must use NIJ level 4 plates for protection. Please see the table below for more details.

It is important to carry out a comprehensive threat assessment, before specifying the threat level for ballistic plates. You should ask the following questions should you need to wear a ballistic vest:

a. What type and style of weapons will I encounter?

b. What is the type, style and velocity of the ammunition being used?

c. What standard is the vest tested to and who tested it? Is it reputable?

d. Is the manufacturer recognised or accredited by a professional body?

e. How heavy is it and am I fit enough to wear it in hot countries for long periods of time?

f. How should it be cared for? What happens if it gets wet?

g. How is it measured to fit. Does one size fits all? Do you need female shape plates?

h. When will it need replacing?

The normal vest colour for journalists is blue (light and dark). If you are embedded with troops, they will sometimes make you wear the combat colour. However, it is not advisable to ensure that you are seen as neutral and a non-combatant. Consider whether you want to identify yourself as a journalist and whether you want to have ‘TV/Press’ on your equipment. Some vests have letters that you can attach with Velcro.

Vests can cost from £800 to £1500. The weight varies depending on what they are made of. The plates will often stop up to two rounds, after which they may begin to break up.

The table below shows more specific details of weapons types:

Photo 1: AP freelance photographer Marco di Lauro, from Italy, shows his flak jacket after he was shot by a Taliban AK-47 in Afghanistan. (AP Photo)

Photo 2: globalmarket.com

Photo 3: survivalistboards.com