How to Build a Successful School AED Program

September 01, 2020 | Last Updated: November 17, 2021

On February 2nd, 2017, Sophia Pierre Louis dropped off her 12 year old son, Rodjeany, to Thomas Jefferson Middle School not knowing that would be the last time she would see her son alive. During the school day, Rodjeany suffered Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), and while the school nurse did respond with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), he still tragically passed away. Following Rodjeany’s passing, NBC 6 South Florida conducted an investigation on all AEDs in the Miami-Dade County school district, and the results were shocking. 

It was found that in December of 2016, the Miami-Dade County school district sent out a memo to school principals with a list of the schools that needed to replace their AED electrode pads. Rodjeany’s school was on that list…as his middle school AED’s electrode pads had expired months earlier. Could the expired pads from the AED that was used to try and save his life be the reason that Rodjeany is not alive today? The answer to that will never be known, but it’s hard not to wonder.

The investigation found that an astounding 629 sets of AED electrode pads of the total 1,493 pads in Miami-Dade public schools had expired between the years 2007 and 2016. The fact that some of these schools had electrode pads that were expired for as long as ten years is not only unacceptable, it’s flat out negligent. These expired electrode pads put lives at risk on those campuses on a daily basis. 

The most important takeaway from this unfortunate situation is that, if the fourth largest school district in the U.S. had such a broken system in place for their AED program, it’s reasonable to assume that there are also fundamental issues with school AED programs in communities across the country. 

Preventing a tragedy like this is actually quite simple. If schools are going to take the laudable step of placing AEDs on their campus, they must also implement a properly managed and comprehensive school AED program that:

  1. Prepares the school to quickly respond to a cardiac arrest on campus anywhere, anytime 
  2. Gives the victim the best chance at survival
  3. Protects the school from any liability by ensuring they have done everything in their power to save victims of  Sudden Cardiac Arrest

6 Steps to Building a Successful School AED Program:

1. Identify an AED Program Manager

In order to build an AED program with proper accountability, it’s vital to identify one person who is responsible for implementing and maintaining the program. School nurses, athletic trainers, or athletic directors are staff members who frequently take on this responsibility. However, this designated person can really be anybody who is willing to serve as the AED Program Manager.

When choosing the AED Program Manager, a school should ONLY consider staff members who are present on campus at least on a weekly basis, and preferably on a daily basis, to ensure proper oversight of the program. 

An AED Program Manager’s key responsibilities are: 

  • Developing a budget for the AED program, and identifying funding dollars
  • Creating a Cardiac Emergency Response Team (CERT) – see below
  • Ensuring 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 of the AED program on campus 

It’s worth noting that the day-to-day implementation of these responsibilities doesn’t have to fall on only the AED Program Manager, as they should be able to delegate various tasks to their CERT. Some schools have even chosen to get their students involved in their school AED program to help build awareness amongst the student population. 

2. Develop budget, identify funding, and purchase the best AED for your school

When developing a budget for a school AED program, it’s important to remember that there are more costs to consider aside from the upfront purchase of the AEDs. These additional expenses can include: 

  • AED Total Cost of Ownership: All AEDs require ongoing maintenance and replacement of key parts such as the device’s battery and electrode pads, both of which add meaningful expense. The Total Cost of Ownership for each device takes into account all expenses a school will incur for their AEDs within a given period of time
  • Other Accessories: These include a wall cabinet for each AED, and an extra set of electrode pads
  • CPR/AED Training for Staff (and students, if feasible): Every couple years, at the minimum, a school’s CERT needs to renew their training. There is not only cost associated with the training classes but also with having a trainer AED unit, and a CPR training manikin available on campus
3. Place AEDs in accessible locations with proper signage

Since time is of the essence when responding to a cardiac arrest victim, it’s critical that the AEDs on a school campus are placed in strategic locations to ensure that they are quickly accessible. 

If a school is able to place multiple AEDs on campus, the devices should be placed such that they are accessible:

  • Within 2 minutes from anywhere on campus (fast walk)
  • By anyone on campus (don’t need special access to the room where AED is located)
  • By after-school athletics and programs
  • At all hours that the campus is open to students, staff, and the community

It is important to mark the devices, and the surrounding area, with noticeable signage to guide bystanders to the location of the AED unit as quickly as possible in the event of an emergency. 

If a school is limited to placing one AED on campus, then it is best to place the device in an accessible location near athletic facilities since a majority of cardiac arrests on school campuses occur at or near sporting events. Learn more about SCA in athletes with our athletic trainer AED guide.

4. Develop a Cardiac Emergency Response Team (CERT) & Cardiac Emergency Response Plan (CERP)

A school’s CERT is responsible for responding in the event of a cardiac arrest on campus. The CERT should be between 5-10 people on campus, one who is the AED Program Manager. All members of the CERT must be CPR/AED certified. 

Typical members of a school’s CERT may include, but are not limited to: 

  • School Nurse
  • Athletic Trainer
  • Teachers
  • P.E. Coaches
  • Athletic Director
  • Member of Administration Team
  • Facilities Manager

One of the most important jobs of the CERT is to create a CERP to ensure that all responders at the school know their role in saving a cardiac arrest victim’s life. 

Well-practiced CERPs can save lives, just as it did for Robbie Bowers, an Athletic Trainer at Rancho Bernardo High School. On the flip side, the lack of a CERP can be a big reason why victims such as Mathew did not survive a cardiac arrest at school. 

5. Widespread awareness of the AED program

It is important to make all school staff, students and frequent visitors on campus aware of where the AEDs are located so that they are equipped to respond to Sudden Cardiac Arrest emergencies in case members of the CERT are not immediately available.

Need some inspiration? Here are the top 6 ways to drive AED awareness at schools.

6. Maintain the AED program for years to come!

Once steps 1-5 have been completed, it’s vital that the AED Program Manager, with the help of the CERT, ensures that all aspects of the program are maintained properly.

This includes: 

  • Checking all AEDs at the school to ensure they are “ready” to use in an emergency at least once per month (or at the frequency the manufacturer recommends), and replacing electrode pads and batteries when required. 
  • Ensuring that all members of the CERT update their CPR/AED certification every two years
  • Reviewing the CERP annually with the CERT
  • Conducting at least two Cardiac Arrest Emergency Response Drills with the CERT every school year

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