When President Trump took his Sunday afternoon SUV tour of the Walter Reed neighborhood streetscape, the word “hermetically” suddenly began popping up everywhere. As in, it would appear to be a bad thing to subject non-COVID-19-infected people (say, Secret Service agents) to be riding in a hermetically sealed vehicle with someone who is COVID-positive (Trump). But are armored SUVs actually any more airtight than a standard model off the lot?
Last spring we went to Alpine Armoring to test a Pit-Bull VX, which is the sort of vehicle favored by wealthy preppers with a flair for ostentation (also, police departments). But we also saw what goes into their stealthy but stock-looking cars and SUVs. Usually, the goal is to avoid clues that a vehicle is armored at all. Before we showed up, for instance, they’d just shipped out a bulletproof Toyota Camry.
The process is the same whether you’re building a Camry or, more commonly, an expensive SUV like a Mercedes G-wagen: the goal is to essentially create a car within the car, an armored pod that can soak up rounds until you (or, likely, your driver) can navigate out of the ambush. Windows are thick and don’t roll down very far, if at all. Doors are heavy. And rear hatches become vestigial doors that lead to the secondary bulletproof rear bulkhead inside. Easier to build it that way than to try to engineer a bulletproof hatch, even if that means your luggage could conceivably take some fire.
What they don’t include, typically, is their own internal air supply. There are temporary systems to mitigate a gas attack (the simplest being onboard gas masks and oxygen), but the plan with armored vehicles doesn’t include lingering in a chemical attack. We asked an armoring expert if an armored SUV of the sort Trump was in would normally have its own air supply, and the answer was no. “Typically armored vehicles’ HVAC system functionality is equivalent to the OEM unarmed vehicle,” he said. “Any armored vehicle that has less air circulation in the cabin has probably not been armored up correctly.”
So, unless Trump’s Chevy Suburban was unusually set up, it wasn’t any more hermetically sealed than a regular Suburban. Which, unfortunately, is still not great news for the Secret Service, for the obvious reasons—small space, shared air. Per the CDC guidelines on shared transportation when you’re sick:
“People who are sick or have recently had a close contact (closer than six feet for at least 15 minutes) to a person with COVID-19 should avoid using transportation options that may put them in close contact with others (e.g., public transit, rideshare, or taxis), and should stay home except to seek medical care.”
And, for personal vehicles, “Improve the ventilation in the vehicle if possible (for example, open the windows or set the air ventilation/air conditioning on non-recirculation mode).”
Hopefully they at least remembered to do that second part. Hermetically sealed or not.
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