The ABCs of AEDs

Let’s get back to the basics of AEDs.


Editor’s Note:

This article was updated by PoliceOne Staff on December 12th, 2016 to reflect the most recent data and information on AEDs.

This article is for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for training on AEDs or their use. This is intended strictly as a resource through which you can get a little more familiar with the technology so you can then seek the necessary training.

Cardiovascular disease is the single greatest cause of death in the United States, and every year more than 610,000 adult Americans die of a heart attack or its complication. That’s one in every four deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital.

One study also determined that only about 6 percent of respondents would know what to do in a cardiac arrest event, but with proper training and the use of an AED within the first few moments after an event, survival rates can increase by up to 90 percent

While AEDs have been common pieces of equipment found on ambulances, fire, or rescue vehicles they are increasingly found in the trunks of squad cars, too. 

Image of defibrillator monitor (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)
Image of defibrillator monitor (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

The fact is that there is a very high likelihood a police officer will need to operate an AED, or at the very least give, assistance while one is being used. Having a decent knowledge of the technology is essential. There are variances in the way these devices operate depending on the manufacturer, but the basics are fairly similar. 

Remember, every device is different, and what follows is just an outline of how the technology typically works — this is not a substitute for training.

How do you use an AED?

AEDs accessible to the general public are typically very simple, safe, and easy to use. 

Step 1:
When you turn on the AED you’ll likely hear a series of audio commands to follow. You’ll need to attach one pad to the victim's upper right chest and one to the lower left side. 

The pads are typically labeled with an indication as to which position they’re intended to be placed on the victim’s body. 

Step 2:
Next, you’ll need to verify no one is touching the victim (anyone contacting the victim’s body can prevent the AED from correctly analyzing the need to issue a shock), plug the wires from the pads into the AED (if they’re not already attached), and push the button labeled “analyze.” 

In some cases there is no button, the device does the analysis automatically. If the AED determines a shock is required, simply push the “shock” button. 

Step 3:
In most cases, the AED will do another analysis automatically.

Some newer models have been FDA-approved for use by the lay public, and do not require any authorization or prescription from a physician to buy or use them. Other models may be more appropriate when the intended users have medical direction from a qualified physician or medical director.

Numerous scientific studies conducted over the past three decades have proven that rapid defibrillation is the single most important factor affecting survival from sudden cardiac arrest in adults. OSHA estimates that 10,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur at work each year. Waiting for emergency medical system personnel results in only 5-7 percent survival. Spreading awareness about AED importance is crucial. 

Dan White, a regular columnist for our sister-site EMS1.com, contributed to this report. Dan, a certified EMT-P, is the director of Corporate Planning & Product Development for AllMed.

About the author

PoliceOne Staff Reports feature contributions from our vast universe of subject matter experts. These sources include our own cadre of columnists as well as industry analysts, educators, and other noted specialists in their fields. P1 Staff Reports focus on an array of subjects including product reviews, product round-up features, “How to Buy” articles, and when necessary, product recalls and safety alerts. If you want to join our panel of experts, or have suggestions for topics we should cover here, please e-mail products@policeone.com with your feedback.

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