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Up-Armor for Active Shooter Events

Regrettably, in today’s world, we are constantly reminded why active shooter preparation is becoming an essential emergency response practice for those sworn to protect and serve the public. Between 2000 and 2013 across the U.S., the FBI and Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center identified 160 active shooter incidents and 1,043 casualties.

They found an average of 6.4 incidents occurred in the first seven years, and 16.4 incidents in the following seven. A close analysis showed that in 21 of the 45 incidents where law enforcement had to engage the shooter to end the threat, nine officers were killed and 28 were wounded.

This FBI report on active shooter incidents was published just under three years ago and there continues to be increased concerns about these acts of violence growing. We need not go further than recent tragic events covered in the headlines. One is a popular Orlando, Fla. nightclub in June, when 49 people were killed and at least 53 injured. Another is the deadly ambush in downtown Dallas, Texas in July, when five officers were fatally gunned down and nine other officers and two civilians wounded.

Preparing officers and the public for and in response to these events has never been more crucial. The response by the Orlando Police Department is an exemplary case of what a well-trained and properly equipped agency can accomplish.


Equip All Responders

We must think holistically about preparedness and consider the best options for all first responders. Active shooter attacks are dynamic incidents, i.e., often over in 10 to 15 minutes. They vary significantly from one attack to another. However, they often involve deadly physical force perpetrated by an individual(s) who has unrestricted access to multiple victims. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has noted that in most cases, active shooters use firearm(s) and there is little pattern or method to their selection of victims.

Typically, the first responders on the scene of these dangerous and fast-moving events are our law enforcement professionals. With active shooter incidents becoming more frequent, it has become a matter of saving more lives and keeping officers safer in the process. Concerns have been met with agencies ramping up their training and driving new protocols and practices, including the use of body armor by law enforcement officers, as well as firefighters and emergency medical personnel so those branches can respond sooner.

Armed law enforcement officers, of course, remain the first line of defense during active shooter situations. However, the difference now is firefighters, paramedics, and medical technicians are entering the line of fire more than ever. These responders require the use of ballistic vests and other tactical gear such as helmets, shields, and blankets in what are commonly referred to as ‘Hot’ or ‘Warm’ zones.

While protocols may differ locally or across various jurisdictions, there are best practices that should be taken into consideration for active shooter training to ensure all peace officers and first responders are prepared to initiate a response plan and manage the consequences of each incident.


Up-Armor Options

Preparing for an Active Shooter event means outfitting officers with the right protective gear. Following the North Hollywood Bank of America shootout and then the active shooter incident at Columbine High School, law enforcement re-evaluated the need for patrol rifles and then the Active Shooter response protocol. These were positive steps forward for first responders dealing with Active Shooters.

One key missing ingredient, however, was the protective equipment required to stop high-powered rifles used against first responders. Crucial to best-practices training is the access to innovative equipment, including ballistic armor, which enables them to quickly approach an armed individual and address the threat while being protected.

With body armor, we are seeing a significant shift in the approach to developing and delivering body armor solutions that can immediately meet the needs of officers responding to an active shooter situation. One example is the creation of equipment that enables personnel to rapidly ‘up-armor’ to quickly adjust the protective capabilities of their body armor according to the threat at hand.

Most often, law enforcement officers wear soft body armor that is usually a concealable vest certified to protect against handgun bullets. Soft armor, however, is not designed to protect against rifle bullets. As a result, agencies should carefully consider utilizing tactical carriers that are able to accommodate rifle-rated hard armor plates. The NIJ Level III hard armor is designed to stop standard rifle bullets, while the Level IV hard armor is designed to defeat Armor Piercing rifle bullets.

Further, special threat ammunition on the streets today has resulted in the need to develop a Level III+ armor designed to defeat these special threat rounds. Advanced technology in these rifle plates are available today, which provide better protection than ever before.


#1 Rule of Body Armor

“Stop What You Carry” must be the number one rule of body armor deployment. In recent years, there have been far-reaching changes in how agencies prepare for and deal with active shooter events, which have significantly impacted equipment use. Patrol officers now have more advanced, high-powered firearms for immediate response to incidents that clearly involve the suspect’s use of deadly force. Officers use better, more uniformed, rapid armor deployment tactics. Officers integrate hard armor options in ballistic carriers, which provide greater and more scalable protection.

Out of all this came the “Stop What You Carry” rule. This dictates that an officer’s body armor should be able to defeat the very high-powered firearms they now carry. Quite frankly, this is also the same high-velocity ammunition that criminals get their hands on to inflict massive injury and death. Unless officers are able to ‘up-armor’ to meet this kind of threat when their rifles are deployed, the “Stop What You Carry” rule is ineffective.


Response Kits

Active Shooter response kits that offer self-contained solutions are a continuing trend. New-generation and affordable armor solutions are providing law enforcement officers with more state-of-the-art features and capabilities they require in today’s climate. In focusing on the up-armor concept, the most advanced Active Shooter response kits enable the officer to rapidly don a plate carrier and immediately upgrade his/her protection when a threat situation escalates.

These end-to-end systems include innovatively designed carriers that offer exceptional protection, flexibility, and lightweight comfort. With the addition of certain options such as adjustable cummerbunds and plate pockets that can accommodate soft ballistic inserts as well as hard armor plates accordingly, officers have more choices for their missions.

The plate carrier is the foundation because it provides up-armor functionality that addresses the threat of rifle and high-powered firearms often used in active shooter attacks. A responder can quickly and easily put on and take off the protective equipment as needed. 

The latest active shooter response equipment also include stand-alone, high-performance hard armor plates certified to NIJ. 06 Level III and Level IV. Their ultra-high molecular weight can meet a V50 of 3130 fps and defeat military-grade rounds such as the M80 Ball and M193 Ball. (V50 testing identifies the average velocity at which a bullet penetrates the armor equipment in 50 percent of the shots.)

Going a step further, newly created Level III+ plates are aimed at defeating or protecting against rounds such as the M855 Ball, which is a mild-steel core penetrator that can penetrate a standard Level III plate.

In addition, these kits offer first responders tactical accessories such as ballistic helmets and shields that can be easily deployed. These are not generations-old solutions. They bring the advanced standards and capabilities that have been available only to special ops and military forces.


Most Important Features

As agencies examine their active shooter preparedness needs, there are some key considerations when looking at body armor adoption: 1) ability to meet all end-user expectations, 2) ability to stop the agency duty round, 3) ability to stop ammunition that is known to exist in the region, 4) most comfortable ballistic package possible based on form, fit, and function, and 5) ability to meet agency objectives within the budget allowed.

The future holds even greater breakthrough protection. This is just the beginning of an exciting revolution in body armor designs and technologies that will offer law enforcement and emergency personnel significantly lighter weight, stronger, more multi-threat solutions needed when duty calls. We will see industry requirements continuing to demand enhanced options for rifle protection and rapid up-armoring capabilities that keep our officers and the public safer.


Michael Foreman is a 40-year law enforcement veteran. He is the Executive Vice President of International Business Development, Federal Sales and Marketing with Point Blank Enterprises. Foreman retired as a Chief for the Orange County, Fla. Sheriff's Office, where he served 18 years in SWAT. He serves as a Director Emeritus for the National Tactical Officers Association and was Past President of the Florida SWAT Association. Photos courtesy of Point Blank Enterprises.

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2016

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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