During Nick of Time Foundation’s recent high school ECG screening event in Seattle, we had the opportunity to ask hundreds of students about AED units.
We estimated that approximately 5-10% of students entered their gymnasium with knowledge of their school’s AEDs – and only one student knew the location of ALL of them! – indicating that more work must be done to bring further awareness of AEDs to students in our schools.
It is important to note that this school has had two successful AED “saves:” one including a teacher and another with a student- an accomplishment for which they should be proud. And given the fact that they already have AEDs and that their school has provided them with a FREE heart screening event, these students are lucky. Most US students don’t have access to these life-saving products and services.
Why is broad AED awareness important?
In cases of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), most of the time we don’t know who the patient might be nor the rescuer. Anyone, at any time, can witness and thus be thrown into a life-saving situation with the instantaneous and unpredictable event of a victim collapsing. Since time-to-defibrillation is of the essence, we can’t count on specifically trained individuals to handle the rescue for us. What if they’re not available to help? The victim cannot wait!
A local firefighter teaching hands-only CPR informed each student that, “CPR and AED rescues are a team sport, and everyone plays a role. Someone needs to call 911. Someone needs to retrieve the nearest AED.”
What does “AED awareness” mean?
AED awareness includes learning:
• When to recognize when an AED is needed
• The location of your AEDs
• What AEDs do
• How to use them
There are significant gaps in broad AED awareness. How can any school with AEDs spread further awareness of their program today?
1. New student AND student-athlete orientation
Incoming freshmen typically begin orientation a few days before returning students to learn the lay of the land. They’re given time to find their classes and ease into the leap from middle school to high school. Orientations are the perfect time to ensure students know (a) about SCA, (b) how to perform hands-only CPR, and (c) where their AED units are located on campus.
SCA in athletes is especially common. Those in the athletic department must continuously spread awareness and be hyper-aware of SCA and AED protocol. Coaches, trainers, and athletes alike should all be familiar with where their AEDs are on campus and most importantly, where the nearest AED is with respect to their practice field. Beginning of season compliance meetings and first days of practice should include information and education on general AED protocol to ensure a “heart safe” environment.
Bonus: allow returning students who are helping with orientation play a role in the education process; this will help instill the importance of AEDs in different grade levels and maximize the knowledge transfer process.
2. Publish basic details of your AED program on your school’s website
Guests, including visiting schools that travel to your location for events, commonly search school websites for directions and other information. What a perfect time to share the fact that you’re a “heart safe” location and teach a new group of people about your program. You never know, the AED may need to be used “on” or “by” a visitor!
Additionally, sharing the location and rationale behind your AED program online, including how to use your AEDs, will give your plan a place to “live” 24/7 so that the information can be accessed all the time, including over the weekend and during summer break. Your school can also modify campus maps, whether it be online or physically on campus, to include AED icons to tell where the school’s AED(s) are.
Bonus: share details of your program or point your students to the online resource at least annually via social media channels.
3. Share, at least annually, details about your AED program with all students AND PARENTS
It is well known that students don’t share everything with their parents. Nevertheless, it’s important that parents know about your school’s AED program. Parents attend sporting events and visit campus regularly, so let’s make sure that they’re informed of your AED program. You can share the information in any format you usually use to communicate with them, including: in the school’s newsletter, emails, or other established channels.
Bonus: if your school’s AED has pedi pads, make sure to explain how to use them too!
4. Provide annual CPR/AED training to all teachers, administrators, coaches, and staff
It might sound trivial, but the fact is that most schools do not provide regular CPR/AED training. Research indicates that these crucial skills drop off after just months, so it’s essential to ensure everyone is trained with up-to-date training. Aside from providing “normal” CPR classes, ensure the placement, location and operability of your school’s AEDs are covered during the training session.
Bonus: to keep costs down, buy a CPR manikin and train someone at your campus to be a CPR instructor. That way, you can provide your audience with certified courses, and you won’t have to incur the costs of outsourcing your training to a third-party. CPR and AED training is not a graduation requirement for many states. Even if it is not required, integrate this short training into students’ health or P.E. classes.
5. Post simple “how-to” fliers next to each AED (and ensure the brochures are always well-stocked!)
Commonly, passersby see AEDs, but they don’t realize that that seemingly prohibited, clunky tool stowed away in a box holds the potential to save lives. A short-and-sweet flier gives you a chance to show and tell them its powerful capabilities without requiring you to be there! Create a simple tri-fold pamphlet that you store next to each of your AEDs that someone can grab to learn about your program. Explain what AEDs are, when they’re needed, and provide a simple map and list of locations of the units you have on campus.
Bonus: include your program coordinator’s contact info. In case they’d like to learn more or help sponsor another unit on campus. Who knows? You’re probably educating a parent who wants to help!
6. Host well-rehearsed AED rescue drills
During a recent survey of school nurses, we found that most feel like their programs could be improved if they offered more AED drills. Exercises are a great time to test your program and learn about possible gaps that might slow down your response times. Often what you have written in your paper protocols go out the window during a real rescue. AED drills can help bridge the gap between protocols and real-world SCA events.
Bonus: involve student groups such as student government, health clubs, or a sports team to participate. They’ll like the opportunity to provide feedback, and they’ll learn while so doing.
In our experience, once a person learns about AEDs, the machines suddenly seem to appear more often. They realize that AEDs are more common than they ever thought before. They’ll start spotting them during their personal lives – at the airport, at the gym, and, hopefully, around school.