Because setting up an SCA program can take up to a year, veterans of the process suggest holding your first brainstorming session in the fall so you’ll be ready to go by the start of the next school year. “There’s a lot of paperwork, policies and procedures that need to be in place,” Jeannie Salvadori of the Carlsbad, CA, school district explains. “There’s infrastructure to build, and people need to be trained on the AEDs and in CPR before you install that first machine.” When you do roll out your program, don’t be surprised if people are hesitant—and maybe a little nervous.

“At first, school staff were reluctant to participate in our annual AED drills,” says Debbie King. “We’d announce one, and it would cause anxiety and consternation.” But over time, confidence grew and morphed into enthusiasm. These days, King’s drills are unannounced. She arrives at a school with a fully dressed mannequin, lays it on the floor, tells bystanders that someone has collapsed and asks what they’re going to do about it.

“Usually we do it in the hallway or library to avoid distracting from the learning that’s going on,” King says. “or we may do it in a faculty meeting or before or after school hours.” The goal is to get an AED to the mannequin in fewer than four minutes, and schools compete with each other to respond fastest.

Five years into the program and with 1,000 people in the district currently trained in CPR, King is confident that those who work and study in Fayette County’s schools will react instantly to SCA by implementing the chain of survival. “Now when a child falls down on the playground and doesn’t get up, school staff take the AED along when they respond,” King says. “I can tell they’ve taken their training to the next step. They’ve internalized what they need to do to save lives.” To be effective, a school’s SCA program should include training for students as well as adults.

Get With The Program: The SCA Foundation Checklist For Setting Up Your Own Plan

An effective SCA program—whether district-wide or at a single school—begins by involving the community, says Mary Newman, president of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. “At your first meeting, create a task force involving principals, school board members, school nurses, teachers, coaches, athletic trainers, parents and student leaders,” she suggests. “Also include representatives from your local EMS system, along with an organization that offers CPR training.” Here’s what needs to happen next:

  1. Name a program coordinator. Choose someone who can run the program, oversee the testing and maintenance of the AEDs, and conduct periodic CPR and AED training.
  2. Review relevant laws. State and local regulations will influence how you set up your program.
  3. Appoint a medical director. A physician must write a prescription for the AEDs and provide ongoing evaluation and oversight.
  4. Decide where to place AEDs. The devices should be placed strategically within a 90-second rapid walk of anywhere they may be needed—including school buildings and outdoor playing fields. There’s no point in having AEDs if they’re not accessible.
  5. Develop a budget and seek program funding. Remember to consider not only the cost of AEDs but also the costs associated with training and ongoing device maintenance.
  6. Designate a core SCA response team at each school. These CPR/AED-trained personnel should include the school nurse, coaches or physical education teachers, and other members of the faculty, staff and administration.
  7. Create an emergency response plan. Write and distribute a formal response plan so staff and faculty understand their responsibilities.
  8. Promote your program. Hold meetings and assemblies to inform faculty, staff and students where the AEDs are located and how to use them. Continue to publicize your program’s progress, from the acquisition of AEDs to CPR training schedules.
  9. Teach CPR to faculty, staff and students. Some educators believe CPR training should be the norm for middle-school students; others suggest waiting until students reach high school. AED procedures are usually taught only to secondary students.
  10. Conduct SCA response drills. Practice emergency protocols much as you do fire drills, emphasizing such procedures as whom to call first—9-1-1? the principal’s office? the school nurse?—and where to find the nearest AED.
  11. Collect data. Keep track of events requiring an AED so its use can be tabulated and evaluated.

-Mary Ellen Strote

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