Knife Attacks! by Darren Nixon

“Code Red, Code Red! Tango One Four, immediate assistance required, I’ve just been stabbed and………….”

Makes your blood run cold at the sheer thought that it might happen to you one day doesn’t it? Many of us go into an unintentional form of denial when considering it. Not so much a case of; “it won’t happen to me” type of conscious denial, but, more aptly, an unconscious response that leans more towards; “I’ll have to read up on this, sooner rather than later” type of response. As with all things in life, the things we don’t get around to doing, are the ones we specifically said we would!

So, let’s look at why many security companies – as well as individuals / sub-contractors –  are now choosing to select risk-specific PPE (Personal Protective Equipment, in the form of the ubiquitous ‘stab vest’) for their frontline staff and, in addition, exactly what part it plays in a modern-day society and the industry as a whole.

We’ll also try to look at dispelling some common myths associated with the actual attack process, and the potential associated injuries. But first we’ll take a brief look at a few points that are not only worth considering, but are also closely related to the motivation behind purchasing PPE.

How is a Typical Knife Attack Launched?

A common myth involves a confrontation, the perpetrator rapidly withdrawing and brandishing a knife, and then the victim and perpetrator circling each other like a couple of deranged land-crabs as each wait for the other to make the wrong move. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth…

The Majority of Knife Attacks Share A Common Theme:

They are rapid and often involve no obvious escalation or indication (the proverbial ‘combat indicator’) that an attack is about to be launched. There may nothing more than use of aggressive language and even a complete absence of any form of physical posturing

Attacks often take place and are over (as in the perpetrator has stabbed their victim and now broken contact / disengaged in less than 30 seconds; which is about the time it has taken you to read up to this point), and they are exfiltrating themselves from the crime scene

They are either opportunistic or premeditated in their nature. Opportunistic means that the perpetrator is reacting to an unplanned (being challenged by security personnel etc.) event or situation and utilises the knife to break contact or exact immediate revenge. Premeditated is often more likely linked to organised crime (county lines gangs etc) and the victim is literally ambushed by a single or multiple perpetrator group

Unarmed Combative techniques are not always effective, and their main failing will be due to be the victims’ (unless he or she is training on a regular / daily basis) inability to recognise that there is potential for a violent escalation. Bear in mind, a well practiced perpetrator can launch up to two strikes to the CMT (Central Mass of Target – in this case the torso) in around or under 1.5 seconds

The most common attacks don’t involve a protracted struggle – you know the theme, the one where the perpetrator and victim are involved in a life or death struggle, with the victim desperately conjuring up all their strength to keep the knife point at bay when it’s about 3mm above their heart – and the critical time between a successful knife strike and the victim’s defensive actions and efforts will often be over within 7 seconds

Unlike the TV / Hollywood depiction of the ‘classic knifeman’ (where the knife is wielded in one hand and the opposing hand is levelled at around the same height as the knife) the reality is that two hands are often utilised in the attack.  The most common methodology is known as ‘grab and stab’ and involves the perpetrator grabbing hold of either one of the victims’ arms or, more commonly, their clothing. This prevents the target from moving to increase the likelihood of a successful strike on the first lunge, increases the kinetic energy transferred from the perpetrators’ blow and also allow them to upgrade their attack by launching a volley of strikes in an extremely short time period – this is sometimes known as the ‘Prison Sewing Machine’ method

A large number of people that are stabbed, aren’t even aware of it… Yes, you read that correctly, the attack has taken place, the perpetrator has disengaged and is on his or her toes! Many state that they actually thought they’d been ‘slapped’ or ‘punched’ and are only aware of the fact that a knife has been plunged into their flesh when they either see the blood or a bystander informs them or offer assistance.

Mortality Rates.

The primary cause of death relating to knife crime, is referred to as catastrophic haemorrhaging; which basically means the victim loses such a large volume of blood (often in an extremely short period of time) that there is not enough circulating blood to carry sufficient oxygenated blood to their vital organs and tissues.  In effect, they literally ‘bleed out’ such a high percentage of their blood that their compromised circulatory system cannot transport enough blood around to sustain life.

The most common cause of this, is referred to as penetrating point trauma and, as the name suggests, is caused by the mechanism of injury known to the layperson as stabbing.

Whilst lacerated and incised wounds (caused by a ‘slashing’ action with the edged part of the knife) can and do cause some deaths, they are often much easier to control and treat due to relatively simple techniques like direct pressure, use of haemostatic agents and tourniquet application, and even self-administered, rudimentary  first aid  techniques (like the victim applying direct pressure on a severed radial artery on their wrist) and are therefore much more viable and effective. The only exception would be a rarer form of attack to somewhere like the neck which had an extremely good blood supply and very accessible arteries.

Penetrating Point Trauma is unfortunately often directed at the:

Abdominal Cavity

Lower and Upper Back

Thoracic Cavity (chest region)

It will often involve damage to major blood vessels, organs and can (in the event of a wound to the thoracic cavity) even cause immediate compromise to the casualty’s respiratory system and their ability to breathe effectively.

Risk Assessment

As everyone knows, there is a legal requirement for the vast majority of workplaces to carry out a formal risk assessment and deal with all conceivable hazards that have been identified. As part of this assessment will then be the process of establishing formal control measure to control the risk.

The accepted methodology includes using the following sequential processes:



Engineering Controls

Administrative Controls

Personal Protective Clothes and Equipment

This means that when all the first four factors have been exhausted and / or implemented to a reasonably practicable level, you are then left with a form of risk that requires the need for PPE that is adequate and fit for purpose. This is where your requirement for PPE will come into play. 

Body Armour Utilised as PPE

There can be absolutely no doubt that body armour is a potential life-saver, and that it should be an immediate consideration; assuming your risk assessment identifies it as being a requirement. It can also ‘buy time’ for the victim in the event of a prolonged or sustained attack…

Here’s some handy pointers relating to getting the most out of your PPE


Simply issuing a stab resistant vest on its own isn’t enough. Your personnel need to be trained in its use, with particular emphasis upon:

Care and maintenance of the PPE

How to use, wear and fit the PPE

Its capabilities and resistance specification

Reporting issues / faults with the PPE

Overconfidence – Important Note: they must NEVER be under the perception that the issue of the PPE now makes them impervious to a knife attack

Profile Reduction

It is also worth considering a lower profile approach. This might be client led – as in they don’t want security officers in a shopping mall patrolling in overt and obvious stab vests due to the potential for negative PR – or it might be a consideration you want, with a view to increasing the effectiveness of the PPE.

For example, if a potential perpetrator is aware that their intended target is wearing PPE that will resist a strike to the torso, they are more likely to attempt a strike to a body part (shoulder or groin for example) that they know is unprotected. Don’t make it easy for them! If it’s viable, it might be worth considering whether you can lower the profile of the body armour (or even considering a full covert option) so that the perpetrator is more likely to strike at the central mass of target i.e. the torso and directly into the protected zone.

Failure to do this may actually increase the potential for attacks on other body areas.

Darren Nixon