Establishing and maintaining a global volunteer emergency response team is a big investment. But there is no question that it is the right thing for a company to do.

Going Global with an AED Program

As defibrillator programs are required in more and more countries, our proactive approach ensures that we're aware of all the local requirements.

Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the leading causes of death in industrial countries. When someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest, they collapse, stop breathing, and the heart stops pumping blood. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation can buy time by maintaining circulation, but the only known treatment for sudden cardiac arrest is a shock from a defibrillator, delivered as soon as possible. The window for a rescue is about 10 minutes, with the possibility of saving life decreasing approximately 10 percent every minute that passes without shock.

This sounds nerve-wracking, but today's AEDs, laptop-sized devices made for layperson use, are so easy to use that people unfamiliar with the device often can listen to the voice prompts and aid in a rescue. It's a simple matter of opening the AED, attaching the pads to the victim, and following the AED's voice prompts. The device is able to diagnose the heart problem, and if it's a treatable one, the AED will deliver one or more shocks to restart a normal heartbeat.

AEDs are standard equipment on ambulances and emergency services vehicles, but emergency services don't always get there in time. This is a problem not only for remote facilities but for urban buildings where ambulances can be delayed by heavy traffic or busy elevators.

These are just some of the reasons why we made the decision to equip Cisco's buildings with AEDs and to train employees in AED use. An AED program is part of our commitment to safeguard employees, contractors, and visitors to our facilities.

Beyond Borders
It's part of my work as manager of the Global Emergency Response Program to integrate a highly effective AED program with the rest of Cisco's emergency response system. One of the challenges of this work is meeting the AED program requirements of all 50 states and of countries around the world.

Our AED partners, one of whom is Cardiac Science, have systems that track AED laws and regulations in countries across the globe. When we were ready to put AEDs in our offices in Israel, Cardiac Science was able to tell us that the laws there require AEDs in offices above a certain size.

Awareness of laws, country by country, is a critical issue. Some countries still have laws that restrict AED use to medical and emergency services personnel. Much as we might like to have the devices available for general employee use, some local laws prohibit defibrillator placement.

Cardiac Science also tells us when countries (such as the United States and Canada) have Good Samaritan laws that protect individuals who use AEDs in good faith from liability for injury. (Some European countries go even further to encourage AED use. They have "duty to rescue" laws, making it a crime if you fail to help a victim of cardiac arrest or other emergency.)

Program Management
One of the reasons we work with the company is the global AED program management it provides. This program monitors both the location and status of each of our AEDs, by serial number.

Our emergency response team leaders receive reminders when units need new batteries or software updates. This system also helps us keep track of AEDs that may have moved when offices relocate. For instance, if an emergency response team leader does not respond to a routine reminder e-mail, my office will be notified so that we can follow up.

Program management protects our AED investment so our people get full protection.

Training's Payoff
You know you've made a great investment when you find out that one of your AEDs has saved someone's life. Our most recent save was in 2009, when Cisco employees at our North Carolina facility rescued a co-worker. Doctors at the Duke University hospital told us later there was no way the man would have survived if we hadn't had the AED available.

We heard from the employees who carried out the rescue. It was an experience that had a major impact on them. "If we hadn't had this level of training, if the company hadn't had an AED, we can only imagine how we would have felt," one of them wrote.

An AED can be used successfully by an untrained adult, but in a situation in which every second counts, it helps to have staff trained to respond.

Obviously, part of that training is a class in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and AED use. Our volunteer emergency response teams are trained, and we have begun offering training to all staff and to our contingent contract workers, as well.

When we offer training, we talk about the benefits of having this training. It's not just for work at Cisco -- it's training people can use in their lives, in the community. Training staff is a benefit for Cisco, and also a benefit for the communities where we do business.

Clear, effective communication about the AED program is just as important as formal training. Cisco has a large, highly mobile workforce, and it would be nearly impossible to brief everyone on specific AED locations for each building. For that reason, we've created a standard system for placing AEDs. No matter which building they are in, Cisco employees know that the standard location for the AED -- along with first aid supplies -- is in the first-floor breakroom.

We also have AEDs placed in our executive briefing centers, customer briefing centers, and fitness centers. In addition, we assign AEDs to the security team at every facility. As a rule, we put one AED in the security team's vehicle and another with the local emergency response team Lead.

Working Locally
At each facility, our safety & security team is responsible for placing the AEDs and works with our volunteer emergency response team to use and maintain it. We keep our AEDs in cabinets equipped with dual alarm systems. When the AED door to the cabinet is opened, an audible alarm sounds. If the AED is removed from the cabinet, a second, silent alarm goes off. This second alarm sends a message to our facility security center, and both a security and an emergency response team are dispatched.

At the conclusion of any incident that involves an AED, the security and emergency response teams send a report to my team and to the AED manufacturer's program management system. This enables us to follow up as needed.

Big Investment, Bigger Dividends
Establishing and maintaining a global volunteer emergency response team is a big investment. But there's no question that it's the right thing for a company to do. From a practical viewpoint, AED programs are required in more and more countries. Our proactive approach ensures we're aware of all the local requirements.

Most importantly, we benefit from having a program that enhances the safety and security of our employees and contractors -- especially when AED training is provided. We've listened to employees who've been involved in AED rescues -- as rescuers and survivors -- and we're firmly convinced that a well-designed and well-managed AED program not only saves lives but benefits the entire organization.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Penny Angeli is the Global Emergency Response Program Manager for Cisco Systems. She works with 2,035 emergency response team members in 110 locations worldwide to prepare them to deal with situations ranging from natural disasters to fire and medical emergencies. Cisco's AED program, begun in 2007, has placed 355 AEDs in facilities worldwide. The company's goal is to have at least one AED in every Cisco building.

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