What are AEDs?

AED is the acronym used for an Automated External Defibrillator. This device is about the size of a standard laptop computer, and is used to help save lives of victims of cardiac arrest. When used, the device automatically analyzes the heart rhythm of a victim and decides whether an electric shock is necessary and how much of a charge should be used. (The evaluation done by the device is more accurate than a person interpreting the rhythm and determining the charge.) The device will then prompt the rescuer to press a button to deliver the shock (defibrillation). If the first shock fails to restore the patient’s heartbeat, the machine will repeat the procedure. The delivery of the shock is designed to bring the heart into an effective rhythm and save the person’s life.

Where should AEDs be available and who can use them?

You’ve probably heard about the introduction of AEDs on airplanes and in all federal buildings. The American Heart Association’s new guidelines recommend that AEDs be placed where there is a reasonable probability of one sudden cardiac arrest occurring every five years. Currently, AEDs are not recommended for use with victims eight years or younger (or under 80 lbs.), since this population rarely suffers from cardiac arrest. (The American Heart Association states that sudden cardiac death in people less than twenty-one-years-old is one-tenth as common as in adults, occurring in only 1 to 2 per 100,000 children per year.)

EMTs are trained and permitted under practice laws to use AEDs. Most states allow AED use by first responders, such as police and firefighters. The growing trend in most states is to allow properly trained lay rescuers to use AEDs. The American Red Cross, The American Heart Association, and the National Safety Council offer courses in Adult CPR and the proper use of AEDs.

Currently, the cost of an AED is approximately $3,000, plus the cost of appropriate training and supervision of anyone designated to use it. However, when you weigh this against its possible benefits, price loses some of its sting. Nationwide, the survival rate of sudden cardiac arrest is only about 5 percent. According to the American Heart Association, early CPR and rapid defibrillation combined with early advanced care can result in long-term survival rates as high as 40 percent for witnessed ventricular fibrillation. Typically, a heart attack victim’s chances of survival drop by 10 percent for every minute of delay in applying a defibrillator.

Should you have AEDs at your camp?

At this point, there are no laws or legal precedents requiring that camps have AEDs, and ACA standards don’t require their presence at camp. However, it is possible that this situation will change as AEDs become more widely used and public expectation for availability increases. Whether or not you choose not to invest in them now, plan to re-evaluate this decision again in the future as further information becomes available. To make your decision about an AED purchase, consider the following questions about your camp:

  1. Location. Would having an AED on site provide the lifesaving shock more quickly than calling EMS? (Three to four minutes response time is ideal.) The more remote your camp, the more likely it is that you may consider investing in AED technology and training.
  2. Clientele. Does your camp serve mostly children, or do you have staff or adult guests, who may be in a higher risk category for cardiac arrest, on your property often? (Think about your entire operating season.)

A few more points to consider . . .

If you do choose to invest in an AED and have a properly trained person on staff, you will need to decide where to store the device. Since time is of the essence, it's best to have the device centrally located. This location may change seasonally if your camp’s activities or focus moves from decentralized programming in the summer months to a more centralized adult retreat situation during other times.

If your camp is in a community with close neighbors, you may consider some “partnering” and sharing the use of an AED and trained personnel. For example, if you choose to purchase one or more of the devices, notify your local EMS of its availability, and your willingness to extend a helping hand in an emergency. Conversely, maybe a neighboring business already has an AED on site, and would be willing to make it (and their trained staff) available to you if the need arises. This kind of partnership could bring the next level of care a little closer to someone in need, and can also help strengthen some community relationships with possibly sharing costs.

Finally, talk to your camp’s medical director/advisor. He/she can help you make an informed decision about whether your camp should have an AED on site, who should be trained to use it, and what the procedures will be for fitting the use of the AED into your current emergency response protocol.


Originally published in the 2001 Spring issue of The CampLine.