Data Doesn’t Lie: AEDs in Schools are Proven to Save Lives

September 03, 2020 | Last Updated: December 08, 2021

In the event of an emergency, schools carry the “unspoken” and “unwritten” responsibility of being prepared to protect their students and staff. That expectation often also extends out to the members of the community who visit the school every day. As an example, that’s why you’ll see multiple fire extinguishers placed throughout every school in the country, and it’s the reason why schools conduct monthly fire drills. If a fire were to break out on campus, it’s ultimately the school’s responsibility to ensure they are prepared with the proper equipment and response plan to keep the people on campus safe. 

While schools are preparing emergencies like fires, earthquakes, and tornados on campus, they should also be preparing for the leading cause of death in the U.S. and by far the leading killer of school-aged children: Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA).

Sudden Cardiac Arrest occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. There are often no discernible warning signs or symptoms. The only treatment for a cardiac arrest victim is CPR (which helps keep blood flowing through the body) and a life-saving defibrillation shock from an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). The scariest thing about SCA is that  every minute a cardiac arrest victim doesn’t receive a shock from an AED, their chances of survival are reduced by 7-10%. Average EMS response times in the U.S. are between 8-12 minutes and can be much longer in less urban communities, making early bystander defibrillation vital to saving the lives of SCA victims. Unfortunately, national survival rates from SCA are dismal at less than 10%.


Losing a child to SCA is tragic under any circumstances. When a child’s life is lost to SCA at their school, it’s even more heartbreaking because the data shows there’s a good chance their life could have been saved if the school had taken the proper steps to be prepared to respond to a cardiac arrest emergency. 

While many schools across the country are taking those necessary steps by placing AEDs on their campuses and properly training their staff on CPR/AED use, there is still far more work to do to ensure everyone is safe from being a victim of SCA when they are at a school. 

Why are AEDs in Schools Needed?

SCA is Leading Cause of Death for School-Aged Children

Over 7,000 children tragically die from SCA every year, making it the leading cause of death of school-aged children. Research shows that 2/3 of SCA related deaths in youth occur during exercise or while they are playing sports, making SCA also the #1 cause of death among young athletes. Physical activity is a daily part of nearly every student’s life with recess, P.E. class, and school-sponsored sports.

SCA Occurs Frequently on School Campuses

Research published by the Journal of The American College of Cardiology shockingly showed that 2 out of 50 high schools can expect to have an SCA event on their campus each year.

SCA Also Affects Adults & Community at Large on School Campuses

Over the course of any given day, over 20% of the U.S. population can be found at a school. Campuses can transform into small cities with thousands of people present at one time for events such as sports, school plays, and general community events hosted on campus. With SCA also being a leading cause of death for adults, it’s not only youth who are at risk on school campuses. Parents watching their child play for the high school team, the referee of the soccer game, and the coach of the dance team are also at risk of SCA. In multiple studies outlining outcomes from SCA events in thousands of high schools, over half of the reported cardiac arrest victims were adults.

Observational Study 1:

  • 2,149 high schools participated in a two-year study to learn the effectiveness of school AED programs. 1,869 (87%) of the participating schools had AED programs
  • There were 59 SCA events reported, and all but one of the events were at a school with an AED program. Of the 59 events, 26 were students and 33 were adults
    • Of the events occurring in students, 69% were student-athletes and 31% non-athletes
    • Of the events occurring in adults, 30% were spectators at a sporting event, 27% were visitors on campus, 21% were school staff, 12% athletic officials, and 9% were coaches
  • While most of the SCA events occurred at an athletic facility (66%), there were still a significant number of arrests at non-sporting facilities such as in classroom buildings (27%), and the parking lot (7%)
  • Overall, 71% of SCA victims survived to hospital discharge. More specifically, an astounding 80% of the SCA victims survived if the AED used for resuscitation was from the school, likely because the time-to-defibrillation was lower

Read full study

Observational Study 2:

  • 1,710 high schools that placed AEDs on their campus were studied for one year
  • There were 36 SCA events reported, including 14 student-athletes and 22 adults
  • 69% of the SCA events occurred at an athletic facility such as a basketball court and football stadium, while 31% of the events occurred at a non-sporting facility such as a classroom building, theater, cafeteria, or administration office
  • 64% of the SCA victims survived to hospital discharge

Read full study

The data clearly show that SCA survival rates for students and adults are significantly higher at schools that place AEDs, leaving no doubt that building a school-based AED program needs to be a pillar of every campus’ emergency response planning to keep their community safe.


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