We must take advantage of new technology and materials rather than rely on systems we are familiar with, says Stewart Liberatore.
The sheer pace of change in the security industry has arguably never been as rampant as it is today.
You only need to walk up and down a few aisles at IFSEC or the International Security Expo to get a sense of the sheer variety of protective systems and products on offer.
However, that does not mean the pace of change on the ground is the same. Traditional materials, methods and approaches are still the order of the day on security and asset protection projects around the globe.
This is perhaps no more obvious than in the blast and ballistic arena. The materials and methods used to protect against bullets, shells, and explosions haven’t really changed in the past 30 years. The basic approach has been to use multiple, sturdy materials to defend against different threats – more material = more stuff to break through.
It’s not a bad approach, nor is it incorrect, but there are better, more efficient methods and materials to use today, which I will discuss later in this article.
The blast and ballistic challenge
The area of blast and ballistic is a hugely challenging area to specify for as the properties required to protect against blast damage are almost the opposite of those you need to defend against ballistic damage. If you want to find out more about these challenges and possible solutions, take a look at our blast and ballistic page here.
To protect against a blast, you typically require a material that can absorb the impact. The opposite is true of ballistic defence, which seeks to stop the object or at least prevent it reaching the other side of the material.
Traditionally, steel plates and thick reinforced concrete have been used to repel ballistic and blast damage. This approach works to a certain extent, but it has its issues.
- Design limitations – needing to use two types of material in construction inherently makes the design more challenging. This is partly why the industry sticks with materials it knows well – if it’s going to require multiple materials, you might as well use ones you’ve specified before.
- Cost – the materials often used for traditional blast and ballistic are expensive, despite being readily available and regularly used. Additionally, the use of multiple materials means the cost increases.
- Labour intensive – the use of multiple materials and other traditional methods when it comes to blast and ballistic protection usually means a longer, more complex installation process. That drives up construction, project management and staff costs.
- More complex – along with higher construction costs, these builds are straightforward either. They only seem straightforward because the industry has become familiar with the methodology.
I fear we are overlooking, or not even looking for, newer, better products that outperform what we currently have – even though newer materials also provide cost benefits.
We’ve also developed specialities in each field, which can mean new innovations are overlooked. Normally, system specifiers are either blast or ballistic engineers. This is likely due to the availability of the approved materials in today’s market place; they are almost always blast or ballistic protection systems. Finding an engineer or a firm that can oversee or specialise in both blast and ballistic is much harder, although it is becoming more common.
The net result is that blast specialists look for blast-specific materials and ballistic specialists look for products in that arena. A singular system that protects against both hasn’t been thought possible, let alone searched or specified for by engineers.
Benefits of a singular system
Being able to specify a material that has the properties to provide protection from both blast and ballistic threats has obviously benefits:
- It saves time and money
- It’s simpler to design for and around
- Quicker to construct
- Better performance
- Easier to make aesthetically pleasing
At RWS Ltd, we are fortunate to be working with such a material. BBX is the first and only block system that defends against both blast and ballistic threats and we hope it is just the start of a new wave of innovations that offer designers, specifiers and engineers more choice when it comes to blast and ballistic materials.
The unique mix composition used in the BBX system allows the blocks to have an enhanced tensile strength and flexibility when compared to conventional reinforced concrete and steel plates.
It’s also a highly adaptable modular building system, offering quick and efficient installations without compromising blast and ballistic protection performance.
The technology behind BBX makes it extraordinarily strong. In fact, it can stop .50 calibre Winchester Saboted Light Armour Penetrator rounds fired from an M2 Heavy Machine gun.
It is hoped that a system like BBX is not tested in a real world situation. It should be one of the last line’s of defence, behind your perimeter security and entrance security solutions.
But should it come to the last line of defence, a singular system that protects against both blast and ballistic threats offers better, more rounded protection of our buildings and people – and what price can we really put on that?