Mark Rowe

Body armour versus baseball bat

by Mark Rowe

Jim Still asked me: “Are you happy?” I replied: “No, but go ahead.” It had dawned on me what I was doing was serious when Jim, director of development at the body armour and slash-resistant clothing company PPSS Group, directed me to the lectern in the central London hotel room where they had just talked an audience of security and related managers through the PPE (personal protective equipment). On the lectern (pictured) were A4 pieces of paper to fill in if you wanted to try the body armour. By the time I had reached the end and was signing and dating, my handwriting was shakier than usual.

I had seen it done earlier. Colin McKinnon the technical director of PPSS had repeatedly thumped Jim on the back with a baseball bat while Jim was wearing the company’s carbon fibre body armour (for Colin’s and company CEO and founder Robert Kaiser’s explaining of the product, see the July edition of Professional Security Magazine). It made quite a singing noise.

I had asked for it. It’s the principal as aired at the event, that I heard many years ago expressed (in terms of IT) by Carl Pace of the installation company Check Your Security: ‘Eat your own dog food.’ It may have stuck in my mind because the thought of it is disgusting. But the principle is sound; whatever your line of business, a service or a physical product, it carries much more credibility if you have tested it. If you work for an airline and you choose to fly by another, what does that say about the airline you work for? Or if you work as a teacher in a state school and send your children private? Colin McKinnon has probably been hit by a baseball bat more times than anyone else, wearing his company’s products, to give sales demonstrations.

As a journalist, I was taught your reports are far more vivid if you volunteer, to experience whatever it is. That involves trusting people (and signing a disclaimer). Jim asked me to face the wall, and told me that he would hit me three times; the first softer, then harder, then harder still. And did so. Only on reflection the day after does the most important point occur to me; I was unscathed. At the time, it struck me how unpleasant it was. And for a minute after, my body did have to get over the shock, before I could make small talk, drink and so on. That matters in security terms because whether the attack is by blunt force, or a sharp instrument, or a bullet, the chances are that the attacker won’t make the one blow. You may face more than one bullet; the body armour will keep you from being catastrophically wounded by the first, but will leave you winded. Maybe meanwhile the attacker has taken to chance to come closer. You have to use the time gained, whether to shoot back, flee, or protect others. That applies to much else in private security: doors, locks, gates and physical perimeters aren’t there necessarily to keep out all attackers; the determined and heavily-equipped ones will get through; the physical security measures are only there to hold up an attack, to give time (for a neighbour to spot something suspicious and dial 999; for a private security or police response, verified by CCTV).

In the UK, the threat is much more likely to be from a knife or the likes of a baseball bat, or an improvised (though nasty enough) weapon such as a screwdriver, than a gun. Equipment suppliers can explain how materials can protect against some of those more than others, besides the shelf life of body armour and how to look after it.

It’s not for me to endorse PPSS or any supplier; but if Jim Still were to come for me with a baseball bat again? I wouldn’t dream of being without carbon fibre body armour.

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