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Can Bullet-Resistant Materials Help Make the World Safer?

Noting that nothing is bulletproof, ballistics expert Derek Gardner believes that bullet-resistant materials can mean the difference between life or death. It’s his job to test these materials to see if they comply with UL Standards.

Unidentified piece of ballistics testing equipment

July 9, 2019

UL deals with matters of life safety regularly. Whether it’s testing floatation devices or making breakthroughs in chemical toxicity, UL is there. So, it’s no surprise that UL’s experts place themselves “under the gun” to test bullet-resistant materials to help make the world a safer place.

That’s where former Army Ranger, ballistics expert and Senior Engineering Technician Derek Gardner comes in. He knows that bullet-resistant – he clarified that nothing is bulletproof – materials can mean the difference between life or death. It’s his job to help ensure tested materials live up to the hype and comply with UL’s strict standards.

A matter of life and death

The performance of ballistic-resistant materials, such as doors, panels and windows, can affect the outcome of an active shooter, which can make a vital difference, according to Gardner.

If a building with bullet-resistant features is put on lockdown, the doors and windows may limit the shooter’s entry by making it so he can’t shoot through the lock or break open a window.

“It adds seconds to them getting into the building,” Gardner said. “In about 15 seconds, a cop, who is two blocks away, would start to respond. He should be able to get there in 30 seconds. Time is of the essence and critical to responders.”

If the shooter is already in the building, bullet-resistant doors can be locked. The fixtures may increase the chance of survival and may reduce the chance of injury as bullet-resistant keyways and locks stand up to gunfire when it matters most.

Gardner checks equipment before testing material

Unintended targets

Besides an active shooter, there is another instance where these materials may come into play:  unintended targets.

If someone fired a gun and missed their intended target, the bullet continues on with force. It keeps going, possibly striking a house, vehicle or even a person.

“A stray bullet can miss its target and end up in the glass window of a school,” Gardner said. “But if it’s bullet-resistant glass, it could be caught or deflected. If it’s regular glass, it could strike a child.”

Materials that won’t crack under pressure

UL tests and certifies steel, bullet-resistant glass, Kevlar and other materials to UL 752, the Standard for Bullet-Resisting Equipment. Principal Engineer Louis Chavez explained that experts like Gardner test to the Standard by shooting materials multiple times. And depending on the level of certification, the caliber of bullets used during testing ranges from 9mm to .50 caliber and may include supplemental shotgun slugs.   

These items are certified to have the highest quality, as the materials are representative of bullet-resistant vests, teller windows, train cars, propane tanks and other use cases.    

Gardner checks the results of ballistics testing on a glass sample.

Each material tested receives prescribed and multiple shots to check for spalling fragmenting and breaking off on the protected side or fail and let the bullet pass through. A piece of cardboard stands in place of what may be a sensitive target. If anything touches the cardboard, even if it’s a small nick or the cardboard is marked by debris, the material is considered not compliant and fails.

In even the most serious situations, know that UL works to help save lives through safety science. Work with us to increase trust in the products that help protect first responders, people and property.