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Is Backpack Armor a Good Idea?
Mike Martin, AT Armor

The Problem Defined. With the tragedies that unfold all too often at our Nation’s (mis-capitalization intentional) schools a lot of us parents are conflicted about what should be done not only at the national level but what we can do ourselves for our school age children. No doubt this is an emotional topic due to the nature of the relationship with those we want to protect. We are talking specifically about school kids and backpacks, not pro applications, so this is focused squarely on that school age child discussion. To define the problem, parents are attempting to:

Determine the best way to assure the safety of their child(ren) if there is an active killer event at a K-12 school.

Is the concept a viable one? We as an armor company get multiple inquiries about placing body armor panels or plates in a child's school backpack. The unvarnished truth is armor in a kiddo's backpack is probably a placebo. I say "probably" because there is no real data on backpack armor employment under typical wear conditions (these conditions are not well defined...at all). Setting this lack of data aside for discussion's sake, when we walk ourselves through the armor selection process the tradeoffs don't make a lot of sense. The first step in the process being identification of the most likely threat. Even this gets a bit clouded because of what is on every parent's mind; many of us consider adding armor based on an active killer with a long gun as the deciding factor (if your particular assessment is a handgun threat that is fine, but for this discussion we will start with the long gun protection). Is this process a data driven “yes/no” decision us parents? Nope. Odds are it is a decision driven mostly by emotion based on events presented to us.

Material Solutions.
With the identification of the rifle threat being the "most likely" for a child in school ( in reality it may not be) the start point for a material solution is rifle rated armor. This being a CONUS rifle it is most likely a M193, M855, and 7.62x39 optimization. This particular ballistic solution set is 4-5lbs in a 10x12 for the higher cost armor, or 6-8 lbs for a couple hundred bucks and a significant weight penalty for a child. So with the most likely threat determined, let’s shift the discussion to mission and roles (duration and frequency of wear). As many parents already know, what are the real odds that our kids will have their backpacks available during an incident? Is there a prohibition of backpack access altogether during the school day? This isn't even taking into consideration wear of a backpack over the vitals at the critical time. It is a constant challenge to get some armed professionals to wear their armor plates properly (up high enough), much less get an 8 year old to hold a single ballistic plate over their vitals while a mad man is shooting a 5.56 rifle inside a closed space. As with other armor selections, the decision process requires a determination of which tradeoffs we are willing to make against weight/cost/ballistic performance. We know that weight will always be a concern, especially for younger children. The financial tradeoffs when choosing armor that is both capable and lightweight are quite different when we think through a backpack application vs a full time duty rig. Armor that is under 4lbs that stops the threats identified above (M193, M855, 7.62x39MSC)…around $1k. A rifle rated armor solution at the 5 lb mark…$500, and if we really want to load up the weight, at 6 lbs and above we are typically in the $200 range. But wait, what parent wouldn't spend $1k for their kid to have lightweight rifle armor on the off chance that it may save their life? Hmmm wait a second. It becomes a different discussion at this point when we think through the reality of the application. When we answer this question honestly for ourselves this reveals some pitfalls in the logic trail. Are we kidding ourselves with the consideration of backpack armor, is it just a "feel good" action? Are we simply throwing money at the problem in an effort to find a solution? Is it a better to have it and not need it, something is better than nothing, I would feel guilty if I didn't buy it? etc etc. Of course this decision is up to you as a parent and there is nothing "wrong" with adding armor. We are simply recommending a deliberate process by weighing the options discussed above.

Other Options / Priorities of Acquisition.
A better allocation of resources might be to self-fund trauma training for teachers and the kids in our classrooms. This provides a real solution to real problems that has the added benefit of being applicable in time outside the classroom. Maybe allocate those monetary resources to assembling consolidated med kits for classrooms...and more importantly assemble individual ones in those backpacks we are all talking about. Citizenfund single officer response to active shooter training for the local PD if it is not funded or is not a priority for them. Argue for trained SROs in schools...the list goes on. No one considers folks that put armor in their offspring's bag to be less than intelligent by any stretch, it is a potential solution but it warrants application of some critical thinking before doing so. The recommendation is to think through priorities and the outcomes of each. We as parents want to do whatever we can for our kids, but this is definitely one of those Halvorson moments "know what you are doing" (self-aware) and "why you are doing it" (what is the real outcome when critical thinking is applied).