Bulletproof vest vs baseball bat

Jim Still asked me, “Are you happy?” and I said, “No, but go ahead.” I realized I was in for something when Jim, development director at PPSS Group, a bulletproof vest and stab-resistant suit company, led me to a podium in a central London hotel where a PPE (personal protective equipment) briefing had just been held for security guards and relevant managers. On the podium (pictured) was an A4 form to fill in if you wanted to try on a bulletproof vest. By the time I got to the end, signed and dated, my handwriting was shaky more than usual.

We’ve seen it before: Colin McKinnon, technical director at PPSS, repeatedly hit Jim in the back with a baseball bat while he was wearing the company’s carbon fiber body armor (for a product explanation from Colin and the company’s CEO and founder, Robert Kaiser, see the July issue of Professional Security Magazine.) It made quite a singing noise.

I asked for it. It was a principle aired at an event and something I heard Carl Pace of installation company Check Your Security state (from an IT perspective) years ago: “Eat your own dog food.” Maybe it’s stuck in my mind because the idea is unpleasant. But the principle is sound. Whatever your industry, whether it’s a service or a physical product, if it’s tested, it’s much more reliable. If you work for one airline and choose to fly with another, what does that say about the airline you work for? Or if you work as a public school teacher and send your kids to a private school? Colin McKinnon has probably been hit with a baseball bat more times than anyone. He’s done sales demos wearing his company’s products.

As journalists, we are taught that reporting is much clearer if we experience it spontaneously. It involves trusting people (and signing disclaimers). Jim told me to face the wall and said he would hit me three times: first softly, then hard, then even harder. And he did. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized the most important point: I was unharmed. At the time, I realized how uncomfortable it was. And for a minute afterwards, my body had to recover from the shock before I could make small talk or have a drink. This is important from a security perspective, because whether the attack is with a blunt object, a sharp tool, or a bullet, there is a good chance that the attacker will not shoot you with one shot. You may face more than one bullet. A bulletproof vest will protect you from a devastating injury from the first bullet, but it will leave you breathless. Meanwhile, the attacker may be seizing the opportunity and closing in. You must use that time to fight back, to flee, or to protect others. This applies to much of private security. Doors, locks, gates and physical perimeters are not necessarily there to keep all attackers out. Determined and heavily armed attackers will get through. Physical security measures are only there to delay an attacker, buy time (until a neighbour sees something suspicious and calls 999, or until private security or the police have seen it on CCTV and responded).

In the UK, there are far more threats from knives, baseball bats or improvised weapons like screwdrivers (although they’re much nastier) than from guns, and equipment suppliers will be able to tell you how long your bulletproof vest should be stored for, how to look after it, and how materials provide better protection against some of these than others.

It is not my role to recommend PPSS or any supplier, but what if Jim Still comes at me with a baseball bat again? I would never dream of being without my carbon fiber body armor.

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