It’s been weeks since terrorists attacked the Bataclan Theater in Paris, killing dozens and wounding many more with a combination of grenades and AK-47 rifles. In the epic gun battle with police that followed, police were armed with an effective countermeasure, ballistic shields.
Using portable ballistic shields, responding police units were able to move past the areas of tactical advantage that the attackers had established. At least one of the shields showed evidence of being hit several times by either assault rifle rounds or high speed grenade fragments. The portable shields provided cover that allowed police assault teams to defeat the attackers.
Storming a building where the opposition force has been given time to plan a response and secure defensive positions is one of the most difficult exercises in law enforcement. That would be especially true in older buildings, which are frequently narrower and might contain many choke points and places of concealment for an active shooter to hide. The cover provided by portable ballistic shields can neutralize the defender’s terrain advantage.
The shield police used to neutralize the terrorist’s advantage in the Bataclan Theater was an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) providing NIJ Level III+ protection. The shields are lightweight and fitted with an inside carrying handle. Most portable shields also have a small window near the top for safe visibility and some models have small wheels or retractable stand on the lower end for stability. The portable cover provided by the lightweight shields neutralizes the defensive advantage of the opposition and provides moveable cover and increased visibility for entry teams.
The portable shields are specifically designed to provide protection from 7.62mm AK-47 rounds, the most common weapon utilized in terrorist operations. The shields are also effective against high speed grenade fragments.
Police and law enforcement need to undergo proper training to learn to use the shields effectively in a tactical situation. Fortunately, classes are available at a variety of locations and are now a standard component of training for most tactical and SWAT teams. This video shows how tactical shields are routinely deployed.
The advantage to the newer style shields is they can be deployed in either a fast tactical advance or slow, dynamic clearing exercises. Shield carriers are able provide forward cover for individuals setting breaching charges or clearing rooms in a roll up exercise. Since the shields are relatively small, it also means the carrier can provide corner coverage and return fire over the corner of their shield.
The biggest advantage in an active shooter situation is that an aggressive advance will force the shooter to ignore hostages and civilians to engage the advancing ballistic shield. While there is a small possibility of an attacker gaining an advantage over the advancing shield carrier due to the leverage involved, that small disadvantage is more than outweighed by the tactical advantage of being able to advance in the face of threats that would normally prevent entry.
After the law enforcement experience in Paris and other active shooter situations, it’s likely that portable ballistic shields have found a permanent place on tactical law enforcement teams.