On-Site Emergencies: Why You Need Defibrillators at Your Next Meeting

Meeting professionals likely have noticed automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in their workplaces, schools, fitness centers, airports, and other places they frequent. But when planners are on-site at meeting venues, including hotels, conference centers, and exhibition halls, these lifesaving devices are often noticeably absent—and therein lies a problem.

AEDs at meeting venues are more of a “nice to have” and not a “must have” in the minds of many managers responsible for meeting safety. As a result, many are dragging their feet on AED deployment, with the well-being of attendees hanging in the balance. 

Lisa Levine, president of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association (SCAA), says her organization contractually requires AEDs at all of its meetings, as do the American Heart Association (AHA) and other organizations that focus on health care or safety.

Within these industries and others, increasing numbers of corporate customers are demanding AEDs for their meeting and convention sites. Indeed, meeting facilities without AEDs place themselves at financial risk from lost business.

Levine says the responsibility for having AEDs available generally rests with the meeting venue rather than with the organization hosting the meeting. She says the SCAA has specific wording in its contract about requiring the devices at venues before the organization will host an event there. On one occasion, however, the association was forced to borrow AEDs from exhibitors when the venue did not fulfill the terms of the contract.

Myths and Facts
Much of the resistance to AED deployment from meeting facilities and planners comes from a misunderstanding of sudden cardiac arrest, AEDs, and CPR. Here are five common myths, followed by the facts:

Myth 1: Deploying an AED at a meeting or hotel increases legal liability. The opposite is true; AEDs are becoming so commonplace that courts have ruled that they are now the “standard of care.” A meeting planner or venue choosing not to have AEDs available actually increases the legal risk should an untreated episode of sudden cardiac arrest occur.

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a successful lawsuit made against a person or organization using an AED in good faith. Good Samaritan laws in many states protect AED users from legal liability if the device fails to resuscitate a victim. 

On the other hand, plaintiffs have sued airlines, fitness centers, theme parks, and transportation authorities for negligence and have received significant jury awards or settlements when AEDs were not available to save sudden cardiac arrest victims. Given the increasing evidence of the effectiveness of AEDs in public settings, it’s only a matter of time before a meeting venue without an AED pays damages as well.

Myth 2: Sudden cardiac arrest is the same as a heart attack. Actually, they are different conditions and must be treated differently. Sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical disorder,” or an abnormal heart rhythm. A heart attack is a “plumbing” disorder, or a blocked artery.

Myth 3: An AED is not necessary because you can save a sudden cardiac arrest victim with CPR alone. Only an AED can revive a sudden cardiac arrest victim, because only an AED can correct an abnormal heart rhythm by delivering defibrillating shocks. CPR alone cannot save a sudden cardiac arrest victim; at best, it buys the victim time.

Myth 4: Just call EMS. A sudden cardiac arrest victim must be revived within five minutes for the best chance of survival. EMS responders usually take six to 12 minutes to treat a sudden cardiac arrest victim, according to a USA Today report. Most untreated victims die within 10 minutes.

Myth 5: AEDs are difficult to operate and should only be used by professionals. A study at the University of Washington showed that the average sixth grader can operate one successfully. Untrained bystanders often save sudden cardiac arrest victims. According to a study by the Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium, non-medical volunteers constitute the largest group of people using AEDs, followed by health care workers and police officers.

Deployment Challenges 
Deploying AEDs at meeting sites does not come without challenges relating to affordability, user confidence, and maintenance. Meeting professionals should take these 
factors into account when choosing AED products and services.

While AED prices are dropping, the price tag for an entire facility can be high. Look for AEDs that are affordable, durable, and unlikely to become obsolete. For example, guidelines relating to the proper way to use an AED and perform CPR are evolving as new information about resuscitation comes to light. An AED’s audio and video instructional prompts must match these guidelines. Make sure your AED offers software updates that can make its audio and video prompts current.

User confidence
Surveys have found that many people still lack the confidence to use an AED during an emergency. Meeting venue managers should carefully evaluate ease of use when making purchasing decisions. Breakthroughs in AED design—including the use of real-time video instruction—are making the devices easier to use than ever.

AEDs must be properly maintained. The long-life batteries that power them need to be checked and replaced from time to time, as do the defibrillation pads and other parts. The AED’s indicator light, which shows that the device is in working order, must be checked regularly. These responsibilities can be performed by trained staff or can be outsourced. Many, if not most, AED failures can be traced to poor maintenance.

The next time you’re on a site inspection, ask whether or not AEDs are available. If they’re not, ask why. The response may give you the opportunity to dispel one or more of the myths about sudden cardiac arrest, AEDs, and CPR. And it may give you the chance to influence decisions that will some day lead to a saved life.

Dave Bingham is the director of AEDs and training at Cintas First Aid and Safety, the largest American Heart Association training center in the nation. For more information, go to www.cintas.com/firstaidsafety