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Navigating the Complexities of Body Armor Purchasing: Key Factors to

Purchasing body armor is a significant investment in your safety and well-being. As such, it's crucial to make an informed decision by understanding the essential factors to consider when buying body armor. In this blog post, we'll discuss the importance of Customer Specific Needs and Considerations, as well as Product Specific Considerations such as NIJ certification, warranty periods, special threats testing, and the limitations of various material types. Finally, we'll provide guidance on carrier selection and an easy way to contact our experts for personalized advice and guidance on selecting the right custom body armor solution tailored to your needs.

Customer Specific Needs and Considerations

Developing a detailed requirement — You need to make sure you have a clear, documented idea of what threats you need body armor for, who is going to wear it, and how you intend to use it, as well as what your budget and purchase cycle look like. There are numerous considerations when determining the best solution, and it's important you nail down your needs up front so you know how to prioritize certain capabilities and factors in your purchase decision. We will be releasing a white paper on each customer type and what considerations could look like in the near future. For now, below are a handful of investigative questions:

  • What threats do we face in our region? A good starting point is ensuring you can defeat your own duty weapon, but also consider special threats, or non-ballistic threats that may be faced such as stabbing or slashing threats.
  • Is this body armor for a SWAT team member, Patrol Officer, or Administrative Officer?
  • Will it be worn for long expanses of time?
  • To what capacity will the armor coverage need to scale?
  • Does it need to accept rifle plates at some point in time?
  • Will this product be shared between officers with potentially varying body types? 

Funding/Budget — This should be investigated and determined (even just a range) up front to ensure no one on either side wastes time exploring solutions that fall outside of available funding. It is important to remember that there are grants and purchasing vehicles that can cover or offset the costs of body armor related products.

Total Solution vs. Products — You shouldn’t just look at Body Armor as soft armor or rifle plates.  You need to make sure you’re mapping out the complete solution for your respective needs — soft armor, up armor, plates, carrier vest(s), accessory items, helmets, shields, etc.  Everyone is better off when the complete solution is purchased up front, rather than piecemealing over time and possibly having to repurchase or replace certain items because they weren’t purchased correctly or completely the first time.

People —  Are you involving all of the right people up front when conducting your research and making a buying decision? It’s critical you understand how impactful having someone step in and disrupt the purchase process, do your best to involve all of the decision makers in the process up front to ensure a smooth and efficient purchase that everyone is happy with.

Timelines — It’s good to keep in mind the length of time a successful body armor purchase process looks like from beginning to end. This is a broad topic, but a lot of customers undershoot the time/effort the purchase process takes and it often leads to unnecessary frustration. Some things to consider:

  • How long does a typical body armor purchase take in your agency? 
  • When should you start your search (base this on when your current body armor expires/needs to be replaced – there is usually an agency policy on this, but for reference most NIJ Certified Soft Armor expires in 5 years, so start the search no later than a year before expiration), what are the steps you need to take to make this happen?  
  • Where is your funding coming from and how long does that procurement/contracting process take?  

Manufacturing Capacity/Delivery — A limitation to capacity and an inability to produce and deliver body armor in a timely manner can result in major frustration and even dangerous circumstances when customers don’t have the protection they need to perform their duties. You need to make sure you’re cognizant of how much and how quickly you’ll need your armor and whether the company you’re buying from can meet your needs.  Armor Express is one of the quickest and most consistent body armor manufacturers in the industry. That being said, it is important to confirm availability of any OEM products before pulling the trigger on an order.

Product specific considerations

NIJ Certification and Special Threat Testing: A Seal of Trust — The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sets performance standards for body armor, providing a benchmark for quality and protection, check out their website including a full list of Body Armor Compliant with NIJ Standard 0101.06  here: LINK. When purchasing body armor, it's vital to look for products with NIJ certification, which ensures the armor meets or exceeds specific protection requirements. NIJ-certified armor has undergone rigorous testing and evaluation, giving you confidence in its performance and reliability.

While NIJ certification provides a baseline of protection, some situations may require additional protection against specific threats. In these cases, it's essential to look for body armor that has undergone special threats testing. These tests evaluate the armor's performance against specific ammunition or weapons not covered by standard NIJ testing. By considering special threats testing, you can ensure your body armor is tailored to your unique protection needs. Armor Express conducts in-house special threat testing, which can include custom testing requests submitted by an agency.

Warranty Period: Peace of Mind for Your Investment — A comprehensive warranty is another critical factor to consider when purchasing body armor. A warranty demonstrates the manufacturer's commitment to the product's quality and durability. Look for body armor with a warranty period that covers manufacturing defects, material failure, and workmanship issues. Another important aspect to consider is product replacement under warranty in the case of ultimate use, when wearer faces a major trauma and the armor is shot or sustains a major impact/laceration/puncture, etc. Through our SAVES Program, a customer will not only receive a replacement vest post incident but will also be invite to join our SAVES Family. A Program which is constantly changing to meet the needs of its members, adapting in an effort to serve as a conduit for healing.

Material Types and Their Limitations: Balancing Protection and Comfort — Body armor is made from various materials, each with its strengths and limitations. When selecting body armor, it's essential to understand the limitations of different materials and choose the one that best fits your protection and comfort requirements. For example, steel plates offer excellent protection at a lower price-point, but may be heavier and less comfortable than alternative materials like ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) or ceramic plates. By considering the limitations and advantages of material types, you can find the right balance between protection, weight, and comfort. Below is a list of qualities to consider when assessing body armor in its various forms:

  • Price
  • Protection Level
  • Thickness
  • Weight
  • Rigidity
  • Backface Deformation
  • Lifespan

Selecting the Right Carrier for Your Armor —Customizing your body armor solution is accomplished through two avenues, selecting the right armor/protection level, and pairing your chosen armor with the right carrier for the job. Current categories of armor carriers include patrol related products such as concealable, outer or overt carriers, and more specialized options such as plate carriers along with scalable tactical carriers for Special Weapons and Tactics Teams (SWAT) or Emergency Response Teams (ERT). 

Carrier compatibility should also be considered. It should never be assumed that a carrier will be compatible with the soft armor panels from another carrier, even within the context of the same manufacturer. Be sure to consult the documentation or speak with a company representative when looking to interchange armor products between carriers. Body armor comes in an array of cuts, thicknesses, and weights, which can affect cross compatibility. If you are considering bringing armor panels from one manufacturer’s products to another, think twice – this will most often void your warranty or even more importantly put the wearer at risk of improper armor coverage. 

Purchasing body armor is an important decision that requires careful consideration of factors such as NIJ certification, warranty period, special threats testing, material type limitations. In addition, selecting the right carrier can further customize the solution to your agency requirements. By understanding these factors, you can make an informed choice and invest in body armor that meets your specific needs. If you need expert advice and guidance on selecting the right body armor, don't hesitate to use our contact form here to get in touch with our experts today. LINK

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