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Blunt Force: The Underreported Threat of the Security Professional

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What is ‘blunt force,’ and what type of injuries result from blunt force impact?

Please let me answer this question in the shortest possible way, without throwing some hyper-intellectual medical terminologies at you that I don’t understand myself. So instead, let me do it in reasonable, understandable, and straightforward terms. And more importantly, within the context of this article.

Severe injuries and deaths resulting from blunt force trauma are some of the most common cases that forensic pathologists encounter. For instance, almost all transportation fatalities, including those involving road traffic collisions and pedestrians hit by vehicles, result from blunt force trauma.

Blunt force trauma is also the consequence that homeland and private security professionals face after a solid object hits them. This may include a fist, foot, knee, elbow, iron bar, extendable baton, baseball bat, crowbar, brick, bottle, can, chair, fire extinguisher, to name but a few. Or, indeed, after being pushed hard against another solid object, e.g., door, wall, floor or car or down a flight of stairs, etc.

Something that remains widely underreported since shootings and stabbings seem to make more dramatic headlines in the mainstream media.

Defining Blunt Force for the Security Professional

When asking a couple of law firms how they would define ‘blunt force trauma injuries,’ they responded with the following answers:

  1. “A severe traumatic episode caused to the body (or head) with the sudden introduction of a blunt instrument used with great force.”
  2. “Blunt force trauma is when the body is hit with an object that is blunt, or not sharp, with enough force to cause significant damage.”

According to Wikipedia, blunt abdominal trauma (BAT) comprises 75% of all blunt trauma. Furthermore, it is the most common example of this injury.

The object’s speed, velocity, size, and weight mainly determine the severity of such injury. The injury can range in severity from a tiny bruise to internal hemorrhages, bone fractures, cardiac tamponade, airway obstructions/rupture. In the worst-case scenario, it results in ruptured organs, rapid internal bleeding, and ultimately ― your death.

I do believe most security professionals will be aware of the potential severity of injuries resulting from blunt force. But I don’t think many will choose to document and report every incident of this nature. “Too much admin,” some may say. And others will state: “It’s part of the job.”

Why Invest in Body Armor

Many security professionals have a reasonable understanding of the most realistic risks and threats they face. Subsequently, someone provides them with, or they themselves invest in body armor.

However, it is worth noting that any type of flexible body armor made from either an aramid fiber (i.e., Kevlar®) or a polyethylene (i.e., Dyneema®) ― including the latest high-performance body armor produced by top-secret manufacturers at top-secret locations for top-secret agencies ― do not offer anywhere near enough protection from this specific operational risk.

On a domestic level (meaning homeland or private security, rather than military), the risk that someone punches, beats, or kicks you or throws stuff at you is a hundred times higher than that someone stabs or shoots you.

Therefore, it is somewhat saddening to see that more than 99% of the body armor of domestic homeland security professionals offers insufficient protection from this specific risk.

Again, in the context of good body armor, the key objective must be to offer sufficient levels of protection from the most realistic threats and risks you face while on duty.

I urge you to make a conscious decision when investing in such type of PPE.

blunt force

On Customizable Criteria

Simply ask yourself the question, what are the essential criteria for YOU? The concealability, the weight, the thickness, or the level of protection from the risks and threats you have identified?

Suppose the concealability of body armor is vital for you (i.e., covert operations and surveillance). In that case, you may well need to look for the thinnest body armor. In this sense, the ‘blunt force trauma’ protection may become of secondary importance.

However, please understand that, in general, the most likely risk you face daily is also the one you should seek protection from. As I have stated earlier in this article, the probability of you getting punched, hit, kicked, or pushed around or having someone throwing stuff at you is far greater than the risk of being stabbed or shot.

To achieve the maximum level of protection from blunt force trauma injuries, body armor would have to be of a rigid structure rather than a soft/flexible structure. Two diverse protective devices which highlight in a brilliantly understandable way the importance and the effectiveness of such protection are:

Motorbike Helmets

Never mind the fact that wearing a helmet is the law when riding a motorbike. Countless studies have shown that wearing a helmet during a motorcycle crash significantly reduces the risk of damage to one’s skull, traumatic brain injury, and even death. Of course, we all know motorbike helmets are of a rigid/solid structure.

  • They would not offer blunt force protection and perform to the required level if the structure would be soft or flexible.

Riot Shields

  • A riot shield is a lightweight protection device. The police in almost every country typically deploy and use it during riots, protests, and mass disturbances. They are usually constructed from a rigid material to offer maximum levels of protection from attacks with blunt weapons and thrown projectiles. The officers’ lives depend on the performance of this piece of equipment. Again, to offer this high level of blunt force protection, the structure must be rigid, not soft or flexible.

The most in-depth research study on ‘blunt force trauma injuries’ ― or in more tactical terms, ‘backface signature injuries’ sustained while wearing such body armor ― was produced by Marianne Wilhelm back in 2008 and is titled Injuries to law enforcement officers: The backface signature injury. It really is worth a read.

This great piece has raised important questions regarding the protection that officers wearing personal body armor obtain, along with the current test methods for assessing the actual performance of the equipment. For example, some test results revealed deformations exceeding the NIJ Standard’s backface signature limit. Such increased deformation can lead to severe injuries. These include blunt force trauma or backface signature injuries, which have occurred in the field repeatedly.

In Conclusion

Your body armor might be successful in containing the round fired by a weapon or the knife thrust at you by a hostile individual. Yet, it might not protect you from the impacting energy during other types of assaults unless it offers you officially certified protection from this precise risk.

The most respected standard for body armor in relation to blunt force trauma protection is Germany’s VPAM (Vereinigung der Prüfstellen für Angriffshemmende Materialien und Konstruktionen) Standard. The title is: Testing of Impact Resistance against Throwing and/or Striking Objects, and its rating will be W1 (lowest) – W9 (highest).

Significantly, our Technical Director Colin Mackinnon recently delivered an online presentation to a large audience of security professionals. (Note that he is a man who served 26+ years with the UK’s Police Forces.)

Following his presentation, he asked a question: “Does your armor protect against knife, spike, needle, and blunt force trauma?” Of those questioned, 55% did not know what protection their vests provided.

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