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14 Jul, Tuesday
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Serve and Protect: Utah companies that are protecting citizens and law enforcement alike

Everything played out like a scene from an action movie. Without warning, a shooter opened fire on a Range Rover driving down a street in a South African city. The driver raced to safety, plowing through obstacles, as a legion of bullets sprayed all over the vehicle.

The passengers survived the assassination attempt because this was no ordinary vehicle. Bulletproof glass and protective armor designed and manufactured by International Armoring turned the Range Rover into a virtual moving fortress. The best part is, from the outside, the vehicle looked like any other Range Rover you would buy at a dealership. But the protection offered by a vehicle like this can be the catalyst for saving lives.

International Armoring“You’re in a cocoon, but it doesn’t look like you’re in a cocoon,” says Mark Burton, president and CEO of International Armoring. “It looks like a regular passenger vehicle.”

International Armoring is just one of multiple Utah companies developing sophisticated products designed to protect law enforcement officers, government officials, military personnel and ordinary citizens. A common goal driving these technologies is to bring peace of mind and security in an unsafe world.

Protecting law enforcement

Police shootings in cities from Dallas to Baton Rouge dominated headlines throughout the summer. This uptick in violent acts against law enforcement officials has led law enforcement agencies inside and outside Utah to look for ways to increase safety for officers while in the line of duty.

Tread Armament, a company based in St. George, works to provide body armor and other safety gear to law enforcement and government agencies throughout the United States. Its clients include the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, the Bureau of Land Management, Homeland Security and even some departments within the Central Intelligence Agency.

Tread Armament does everything from providing armored vehicles and strike plates for SWAT teams to installing firearm locks inside police vehicles that operate on bio-metric technology. The company works to fit its products to each officer and has enjoyed a surge in clients looking to get outfitted with high-tech safety gear.

One particularly popular item is a Gabriel BBL vest.  It weighs less than five pounds and uses Kevlar XP, an upgraded type of Kevlar that features enhanced ballistic stoppage capabilities. The vest also covers the same area as any traditional law enforcement body armor vest.

The vest is also designed with fabric that makes it easier to keep the wearer’s body cool and dry during excessive heat. This goes a long way to reducing the risk of fatigue for officers on duty.

“It allows them to have less fatigue out in the heat, and having less fatigue allows their emotions to be more stable,” says Nick Whitney, CEO of Tread Armament. “There’s nothing like being hot and sweaty and then you got to deal with someone yelling at you.”

Tread4Using lighter Kevlar and fabric makes it easier for Tread Armament to customize its product to fit the needs of different clients. For one client, a sheriff, they created a custom Kevlar vest made with leather. The sheriff did not want a vest he always had to wear under his uniform, since he doesn’t go on scene all the time. Tread Armament came up with a solution and gave him a product he could slip on and off with ease as needed.

“We actually designed a custom Kevlar vest that was leather, so it looks like a biker vest, and he has been really ecstatic about it,” Whitney says. “He keeps it in his truck and grabs it when he needs it. He has his badge patched onto it. It looks fantastic, and it looks like a standard biker vest, but it’s actually a Kevlar vest.”

The Kevlar XP that Tread Armament uses in its products meets National Institute of Justice (NIJ) IIIA Standards. It is law enforcement-grade Kevlar that can stop ammunition from a variety of firearms including 357 Magnum, a 44 Magnum, 9 mm and .45 caliber. All of the Kevlar must pass NIJ standards before it can be sold.

This technology has been applied by Tread Armament to enhance multiple products with great success. It lightened a typical strike plate from eight to nine pounds down to only three pounds. It also produces helmets that are made from compressed Kevlar instead of steel.

Law enforcement and military officials outside the United States have begun to turn to Tread Armament for supplying their body armor needs. Body Armor Canada carries the company’s products in Canada and the Brazilian military entered into a contract with the Utah company at the beginning of this year.

International Armoring also works with law enforcement agencies in offering up armored vehicles, although the cost of each vehicle has limited the scale a bit. The company has done its part to make products available locally. It has donated sets of bulletproof glass and installation services to several local police departments along the Wasatch Front.

Clients have stepped up to the plate and are helping out as well. One client contacted International Armoring and wanted to buy 100 sets of glass so they could donate it to local police departments where they lived.

People feel motivated to do something to protect police officers with the recent increase in shootings and other violence. They want make these law enforcement officials less of an easy target for criminals.

“It’s something that’s very valuable,” Burton says. “People say that’s not a good use of resources when it’s taxpayer money. When it’s donated, they suddenly feel differently about it.”

Protecting citizens

Working and living in some developing countries can be a dangerous thing. Threats of kidnapping, assassination and other acts of violence are a daily concern for government leaders, business leaders or even wealthy private citizens. That’s where companies like International Armoring help to make life a little safer for these individuals.

The company designs armor for cars using synthetic fiber armor laminates and molds the armor to fit an existing vehicle. The armor is light weight, so it does not negatively impact speed or gas mileage, and it protects the entire passenger compartment.

“We’ve maintained the original appearance and we’ve maintained the original performance,” Burton says. “Our weight added to the vehicles is a third of what a majority of armoring companies add to their vehicles.”

International Armoring has production facilities in Africa, Asia, Europe and Utah. All design and material preparation is completed in Centerville and then shipped out to other production facilities for installation.

Armoring vehicles in multiple developing countries carries some challenges. International Armoring has to navigate local laws, rely on local labor for overseas locations and deal with currency fluctuations in those nations. Still, business has been healthy for two decades and continues to grow as people feel more uncertainty with threats of violence and increasing unrest around the world.

“It’s a feeling of uncertainty and that’s why people buy these cars,” Burton says. “There’s not always a direct threat. These are individuals who are worried about random acts (of violence) when leaving their home.”

International Armoring has a 60/40 split between military/government clients and corporate/private sector clients. It has produced armored cars for clients ranging from Fortune 500 multinational corporations to wealthy individuals.

Getting such protection doesn’t come cheap. Changing out windshield and glass and putting basic armor in the doors can cost anywhere from $28,000 to $35,000. A standard vehicle will run more than $60,000 or $70,000 for comprehensive protection features.

The price tag has not diminished the demand for armored vehicles. International Armoring has fitted armor to more than 8,000 vehicles worldwide; 130 different models have been used to create armored vehicles and these have been delivered to more than 50 countries around the globe.

International Armoring isn’t alone in offering products designed to protect ordinary citizens during terrorist attacks or from other acts of violence. Tread Armament offers a whole line of Kevlar enhanced items ranging from laptops to backpacks.

TreadArmamThese items use Kevlar inserts that allow them to offer protection. A person can use a laptop case as a shield or hunker down behind a backpack in a shooting situation. This can make a difference in keeping them alive until help arrives.

“The world is getting to the point where you’ve got to be self-reliant and self-protected,” Whitney says. “Most (police) dispatch times are between three to six minutes and a lot can happen in three to six minutes, especially if you figure a firearm can fire between two to three rounds per second. Three to six minutes can mean life or death.”

Most states permit civilians to carry Kevlar with them, so using a Kevlar insert can be an easy way to increase personal protection when traveling. Many of these Kevlar enhanced products are highly popular. Whitney notes that Tread Armament had almost three weeks worth of backlogged orders for bulletproof kid’s backpacks in July.

Educating on safety

Developing high-tech products is only one ingredient in the recipe for safety and security. Education also plays a big component in what some of these companies do.

Tread Armament aids law enforcement agencies by offering gun safety classes and concealed carry classes. Each class brings in law enforcement officials as instructors. It goes beyond the basics of how to properly use a gun.

Class instruction, for example, stresses the importance of compliance in instances when you are pulled over by a cop and have a firearm in your vehicle. Gun owners also receive one-on-one training at the gun range, so they know how to safely use firearms.

All of this instruction helps gun owners understand how to keep composure in tense situations.

“They don’t get into that adrenaline rush and waving their gun or brandishing it when they shouldn’t,” Whitney says.

Classes also have a positive impact at home. Children learn what to do around firearms and parents learn how to store their firearms in a safe and secure manner inside their home. The classes take fear and misunderstanding out of the equation when dealing with firearms. Children learn to not play with firearms and parents learn how to properly store them.

Tread Armament also can help make gun safety at home a little easier. It offers bio-metric safes for families to store firearms. Each safe is programmed to read fingerprints of the mother or father or both parents. They swipe their finger and the safe opens for firearm access.

It won’t open for any other fingerprints not programmed into the safe.

“It makes the parents feel better,” Whitney says. “They want to be trained.”

One crucial area where educational opportunities prove useful is public relations. The classes give law enforcement officers a chance to interact and construct positive relationships with citizens they serve. Once people get a chance to meet police officers in a more relaxed setting, they learn they are regular people who are here to help them and protect them.

Creating that thread of understanding can go a long way to creating a safer environment for officer and citizen alike. It creates trust.

“This gives them a platform to come in and do some good and also introduce themselves and let the public know they are our friends,” Whitney says. “They’re here to protect us. They’re not here to batter, beat or mistreat. They’re here to help us.”