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Updates to NIJ’s Body Armor Standard Driven by Officer Safety, Operational Requirements and Testing Process

February 2018

PhotoWhen NIJ embarks on updating one of its standards, one of the first items on the agenda is to establish a Special Technical Committee, or STC. An STC includes members from three primary groups: sworn law enforcement, public safety and/or corrections professionals; subject-matter experts (SMEs); and engineers/scientists. Often, these roles overlap; we have officers who are scientists, and engineers who are also subject-matter experts. This all adds to the depth of knowledge on the committee.

The committee first agrees, via a consensus process, on the scope of the standard. For example, in the instance of the ballistic-resistant body armor standard, the key question is: What do we need body armor to do? Using information gathered from professionals working in the field, the STC identifies requirements, which engineers and SMEs then set about implementing in a manner that meets those needs and is also achievable and realistic for manufacturers and test laboratories to implement.

The introduction of the NIJ 0101.07 Body Armor Standard isn’t going to be the total “sea change” we saw when the 0101.06 version was introduced. The basic principles of how we test armor remain the same. However, STC members took a critical look at NIJ 0101.06 and set about making incremental improvements. These improvements were primarily driven by officer safety and operational requirements, as well as making needed tweaks to the testing processes to ensure that armors that pass the test are doing what officers need them to do.

What are “operational requirements”? This is a question asked during every standards development meeting that we attend. In short, these requirements are what officers using the equipment need it to do. In relation to body armor, there are a myriad of requirements in addition to the most fundamental need: stop bullets. Users of the .07 standard will notice four significant changes in addition to minor incremental improvements throughout the standard:

  • Introduction of female/shaped armor testing.
  • Renaming of protection levels.
  • Changes to protection levels, including adding an additional level for plate/rifle armor and additional threats added to existing protection levels.
  • Separating the threat document from the performance standard, allowing the threat document to be maintained and updated independently and applied to all NIJ standards referencing ballistic protection.

The draft NIJ 0101.07 Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor standard and the associated NIJ Specification Threat Levels and Associated Ammunition document have been released for a 90-day public comment period. Manufacturers, public safety professionals and anyone else who may be interested can see the notice in the Federal Register and download the drafts:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/02/22/2018-03674/proposed-revision-of-nij-standard-010106-ballistic-resistance-of-body-armor.

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/02/22/2018-03672/threat-levels-and-associated-ammunition-to-test-equipment-intended-to-protect-us-law-enforcement

Access the draft documents and comment sheets at https://www.nij.gov/topics/technology/standards-testing/pages/comment.aspx.

Comments to both documents are due by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on May 23, 2018.

Dan Longhurst is JTIC’s Standards Coordinator.