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Empowering Communities: The Vital Role of AEDs in Saving Lives

by Charlie Burn


While strolling through the neighbourhood with my six-year-old son, I spotted a green box attached to a wall. As I explained that it was an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), it struck me how crucial it is for everyone to understand the importance of having an AED in their local community and knowing how to use it in case of a cardiac emergency.

Green housing to a community AED with a number lock. It reads: "Life Saving Defibrillator".

Various community organisations have contributed to providing this AED, its housing and signage.

The Significance of AEDs:

I’m lucky. Two AEDs within a few minutes’ walk from my home offer me a sense of security, but I wonder if people truly grasp the life-saving potential of these devices. The reality is that using a defibrillator is simple, yet a lack of knowledge may lead to hesitation during a critical moment. In fact, fewer than 2% of people have an AED deployed before the ambulance arrives. A shocking statistic! Defibrillation within 3–5 minutes of collapse can produce survival rates up to 50–70%. It is higher still if defibrillation can be done sooner than this (90% survival rate if shock occurs within the first minute), but unless you have your own defibrillator or you happen to already be in a hospital under observation, this is not realistic.

Without intervention, the chances of survival are unfortunately bleak. Fewer than 1 in 10 people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.

Signage connected with a second AED with symbols and instructions about calling 999, performing CPR and delivering a shock. It reads: In case of emergency, public access defibrillator.. Ambulance Control will give you the code to open this cabinet.

Signage above the AED housing which reminds people to call 999, begin CPR, shock and if possible check for a pulse.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Using an AED:

In a cardiac emergency, there’s no time to waste. Here’s a step-by-step guide to using an AED:

Don’t Hesitate to Help: Each minute of delay reduces the probability of survival to hospital discharge by 10%. Swift CPR and use of an AED are important parts in the chain of survival.
Assume Consent: If the person is unconscious, assume they would want your help.
Follow AED Instructions: The machine guides you through the process, usually by talking. It will not shock without warning and may require you to use a button to administer the shock or it may do it automatically.
Prepare the Chest: Place sticky pads asymmetrically on the chest and torso, ensuring good contact. There will be backing to remove. Children will need pads placed differently – one to the front and one at the back. Infants will require infant pads which are not usually provided.
Clothing and Jewellery: Remove any obstructions, including clothing and jewellery. Clothes-cutting scissors may be provided within the the kit.
A Quick Shave: Shave chest hair if necessary for better pad contact. A razor may be provided within the kit.
Pad Connection: Plug the wires from the pads into the AED.
Follow AED Instructions: The machine may advise continuing CPR or delivering a shock.
Coordinate with Paramedics: When paramedics arrive, follow their guidance. They may not want you to stop CPR straight away.

This community AED is stored in a green oval housing with yellow edging. There is a number lock code and basic information available.

Another AED: Note the number lock, location information including What.Three.Words and instructions.

Locating Your Nearest AED:

AEDs are now found frequently in community spaces. Whether it’s a shopping centre, school, or leisure facility, knowing the locations of these devices is crucial. Use tools like British Heart Foundation’s Defib Finder to identify defibrillators near you. Community engagement, as demonstrated by local organisations, plays a significant role in ensuring widespread AED accessibility. They have placed them there so that we might all help one another. Take a little time seeking them out so you know exactly where they are. Here in the UK, they are green and usually mounted onto walls within a secure housing. To prevent misuse and to ensure they are there when needed, there is a lock that requires a number code. This number is held by the emergency services and when you call 999, they will tell you the code.


First Aid Training will increase your confidence to respond to a Sudden Cardiac Arrest using any AED in your community. A great training provider, such as White Cross Training, will have Training Defibrillators for you to try out as part of your programme. Practice will increase your skills and understanding of effective CPR’s role alongside an AED to greatly increase the chances of survival for the person you are helping. Remember that fewer than 1 in 10 people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. But quick intervention – calling 999 (or 112), beginning CPR and using an AED – can greatly increase their chances. You can make that difference.

A person performs CPR on a training mannekin with practice pads for an AED applied.

Learning how to use an AED as part of first aid practice helps you develop important skills you can use in a real emergency


Arming ourselves with knowledge and promoting the accessibility of defibrillators can significantly improve the chances of survival in our communities. It’s not just about having AEDs nearby; it’s about understanding the urgency and taking swift, informed action to save lives.

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