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How Blast-resistant Clothing Works

        Science | Explosives

Blast-resistant Suits
HowStuffWorks 2008

A blast-resistant suit provides the most comprehensive protection against a blast. When a bomb strikes a blast-resistant suit, the force is diminished by the suit's tightly woven fibers. These fibers spread the blast's force throughout the suit. Ballistic plates help deflect force and repel the shrapnel and secondary fragmentation. The heat and flames produced by a bomb will be neutralized by the flame-resistant quality of the suit. You can read How Body Armor Works and How Liquid Body Armor Works for further explanation.

Let's look at the materials and components that do the diffusing.

Bomb suits are made of Kevlar or some other aramid-based product. Aramid (the generic name for Kevlar) consists of synthetic fibers woven from polymers -- large molecules made from strands of smaller molecules called monomers. Aramid's outstanding strength-to-weight ratio makes it an ideal fabric for bulletproof and blast-resistant clothing.

Additional foam or other padding may be incorporated throughout the bomb suit. This offers protection to the wearer not only from flying debris, but also from the force of impact that occurs when the wearer of the suit is thrown to the ground.

The garment has internal pockets consisting of webbing and Velcro inside which ballistic plates can be inserted. These plates are made of steel, aramid or coated ceramic. They're designed to protect the wearer from fragmentation.

Bomb suits also include these protective features:

  • A blast-resistant helmet may be constructed with an aramid core, some type of molded protective outer layer and a suspension harness for comfort. Helmets have a clear, anti-ballistic visor, and some have built-in headphones and a microphone, as well as the ability to transmit signals. These specialized helmets may have an internally powered ventilation system that cools the wearer and de-mists the visor. There may also be brackets where the technician can mount a hands-free video camera or light.
  • A high collar protects the neck and extends up to the helmet.
  • Overshoes are typically sewn onto the bomb suit and fit over the technician's footwear.
  • Generally arranged to protect the throat, chest and groin areas, blast plates can also be placed inside internal pockets on the front of the arms, legs and ribcage.
  • Blast-resistant clothing typically includes quick-release straps to free an injured technician from the material for easier transport or medical aid.
  • Since the heat inside a bomb-resistant suit can become unbearable, some incorporate internal cooling mechanisms. These devices circulate water collected from a melting ice pack throughout a network of tubes that are sewn into the suit or into a vest worn beneath the suit.

Although great advancements are being made in blast-resistant clothing, there are limits to the level of protection such materials can afford an individual. If a bomb is big enough, and you are close enough to it, there may be nothing that can prevent the damage the bomb blast and resulting fragmentation and shockwaves will do to you. No materials or structures are ever entirely bombproof.

For some professions, it's not practical to wear a full blast-resistant suit every day on the job, but it's still necessary to have protection against bombs and IEDs. How do these professionals protect themselves? We'll learn about some other blast-resistant options on the next page.


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