Preparing Your Church to Use an AED

Your church, synagogue, mosque, or temple just purchased AEDs. Fantastic! Now what? 

There’s more to ensuring your organization is prepared to save a life than the initial purchase of an AED. Once you have a device at your facility, preparation becomes the key to keeping your community safe from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) especially since every second that goes by has a potential impact on whether the person will survive or not. 

Are the staff and members of your congregation aware of where the AEDs are located and is there a plan in place (similar to a fire drill) in case someone goes into SCA at your facility? Is there a schedule or plan in place for keeping the AED machines properly maintained? 

In many cases, the answer to both of these questions is, unfortunately, “no.” And oftentimes, a lack of preparation is the difference between a beloved community member still being alive or not. 

The “save” story of Mark Sienkiewicz who went into SCA at his church in south St. Louis County is a great example of how preparation enables quick response and a much greater chance of survival!

So how can your church or faith-based organization be prepared to respond to Sudden Cardiac Arrest? 

It’s quite simple. Follow these five simple steps, and your organization will be well on its way to keeping your staff, congregants, and visitors safe from SCA when they are at your facility!

5 Steps to Prepare Your Church to Use an AED: 

STEP 1: Identify WHO is going to be responsible for the AEDs & SCA Response Planning

It’s important to identify one person who is accountable for both keeping your AEDs maintained and making sure that your organization has a response plan in place in the event of SCA at your facility. 

This person is typically designated as the “AED Program Manager,” and can ultimately be anyone who is willing to take on the responsibility of this role. 

An AED Program Manager’s key responsibilities are: 

  • Creating a Cardiac Emergency Response Team (CERT) – see below
  • Ensuring that the AEDs stay maintained
  • Keeping CPR/AED training of the CERT up-to-date, and conducting regular Cardiac Emergency Response Drills (CERD’s)
  • Spreading awareness about SCA and the AEDs (location, how to use them, etc…) with all congregants and frequent visitors of your facility

When identifying who could be your organization’s AED Program Manager, it’s important that your church or faith-based organization only consider staff members or congregants who are present at your facility at least on a weekly basis to ensure proper oversight and preparedness.

STEP 3: Create a Cardiac Emergency Response Team (CERT) & Cardiac Emergency Response Plan (CERP)

A church or faith-based organization’s CERT is responsible for leading response efforts in the event of a SCA emergency at their facility. The CERT should be composed of 5 to 10 people who are at the facility at least once per week; it’s ideal if many members of the CERT are present on a daily basis. All members of the CERT need to be CPR/AED certified. 

Potential members of a church or faith-based organization’s CERT may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Pastor/Religious Leader
  • Administrative Staff
  • Facilities Manager
  • Members of Other Committees/Groups that are frequently at the facility 
  • Congregants who are CPR/AED trained and consistently attend weekly services

One of the most important jobs of the CERT is to create a CERP to ensure that members know their role when responding to a SCA.

STEP 3: Place AEDs in accessible locations with proper signage

A critical part of preparedness is ensuring that your AEDs are clearly visible in strategic locations. For the best chance at survival, your devices should be able to be accessed and brought to the person in Sudden Cardiac Arrest within a couple of minutes from anywhere in your facility

If your church or faith-based organization is able to place multiple AEDs at your facility, the devices should be placed such that they are accessible:

  • Within a 2 minute fast walk, roundtrip from anywhere
  • By anyone, not just staff. AEDs should not be located in any rooms, closets, or places that require special access or are locked
  • After normal hours of operation to keep visitors that may be attending a community event safe

If your organization can only place one AED at your facility, then it is best to place the device in a location where large numbers of people gather most frequently such as where weekly services take place. However, if your organization has a gym or other athletic facilities on-site that are used frequently, you may want to consider placing an AED there instead given the increased risk of SCA during physical activity.

Regardless of where you decide to place the AEDs at your facility, it is important to mark the location of the devices with eye-catching and easily noticeable signage. That way, in the event of an emergency, even visitors who are not familiar with where the AEDs are located can quickly identify and utilize the units to save a life!

STEP 4: Broad awareness about SCA, and the AEDs at your facility

It’s impossible to know who will be at your church or faith-based organization when a person goes into SCA. That’s why it’s important to, at the minimum, make all staff, congregants, and frequent visitors aware of where the AEDs are located so that they are ready to respond in case members of the CERT are not present or immediately available. 

However, it’s best to go a step further, and also spend time educating your staff and congregation about SCA, how to perform hands-only CPR, and how to use an AED. Raising awareness can be as simple as delivering a brief presentation on SCA and demonstrating how to respond, or if feasible, offering hands-only CPR/AED training for all your congregants. The CALL-PUSH-SHOCK curriculum is a great and simple great way to teach people how to recognize and respond to Sudden Cardiac Arrest Emergencies.

The more educated and aware your community is about SCA and how to react, the more empowered they will feel to save a life during an emergency. 

STEP 4: Maintain your AEDs, training certifications, and CERP!

One of the most overlooked, yet essential, parts of preparedness is maintenance including both device and response plan maintenance.  

Device Maintenance
All AEDs require varying degrees of ongoing maintenance and oversight. Every currently available model has key components such as electrode pads and batteries that expire and need to be replaced. In addition, all AEDs should be checked at least once per month (or at a frequency the manufacturer recommends) to ensure the device is “Ready” to use in an emergency.  

Gary Hoffman’s save story is an example of a church not keeping track of their AED maintenance. While Gary was very lucky that the 12-year old AED that was used on him was still functional, the people in his congregation who responded to him were unsure the last time the device was checked and if it would work.

Response Plan Maintenance: 
To ensure that your faith-based organization is prepared to effectively respond to an SCA at all times, it’s important to:  

  • Sponsor/organize CPR/AED certification for all members of your CERT every two years
  • Review the CERP annually with the CERT, and make any necessary updates or improvements
  • Conduct at least two Cardiac Arrest Emergency Response Drills with the CERT every calendar year

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