Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Prevention and Response Strategies for Schools

Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Prevention and Response Strategies for Schools

Preventing and Responding to Sudden Cardiac Arrest at Your School

In January 2023, NFL fans watched on live television as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during a game with the Cincinnati Bengals. The long minutes ticked by as the medical team worked to revive him using CPR and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Hamlin survived, and the incident sparked a renewed discussion about the importance in the athletic community (and elsewhere) of training and emergency response plans that include CPR and AEDs.

What happened with Hamlin was a very public example. Most instances of sudden cardiac arrest don’t happen during nationally televised professional sports events. They can happen on high school practice fields, gymnasiums, or locker rooms. They can happen anytime, anywhere, and tragically, only 1 in 10 victims survive, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.

Approximately 2,000 people under the age of 25 die from sudden cardiac arrest in the U.S. each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For athletes, it’s the most frequent medical cause of sudden death according to the American College of Cardiology.

Experts say the immediate use of CPR and AEDs can mean the difference between life and death. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) keeps blood flowing when the heart stops. AEDs assess the person’s cardiac rhythm and can provide an electrical shock to get the heart back to its normal rhythm.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention and Response Strategies for K-12 Schools

CPR and first aid training is mandatory for youth athletic coaches in 33 states, according to the organization, but as of 2021 only 24 states require the installation of AEDs on school campuses, according to the organization Avive, and that legislation varies greatly state to state. Education Week reports that many schools that have AEDs lack broader emergency action plans related to athletic injuries that include training of and access to the life-saving devices.

Reducing the likelihood of sudden cardiac death requires a focus on both prevention and response.


  • Have a written emergency action plan.
  • Conduct a pre-athletic participation medical history and physical for all athletes. This can detect possible sudden cardiac arrest symptoms or identify risk factors.
  • Make sure AEDs are accessible and that staff and designated volunteers are trained on how to administer both CPR and on how to use AEDs.
  • Prior to each practice or competition, athletic staff should meet to confirm emergency protocols, including:
    • Is proper emergency equipment present?
    • What is the action plan if an athlete is injured?
    • How will communication take place?
    • Is there an ambulance on standby?
    • What is the designated hospital?


  • Heed warning signs such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, weakness, and heart palpitations. Impress upon athletes that if they are experiencing these symptoms, they need to alert coaches/trainers immediately.
  • Recognize when it’s sudden cardiac arrest, signaled by sudden collapse, no pulse or breathing, loss of consciousness. Often sudden cardiac arrest occurs without warning.
  • Take immediate action, including the administration of CPR and an AED. Sudden cardiac arrest must be treated within minutes.

(Source: Vector Solutions “Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Athletes”)

How Vector Solutions Can Help

Vector Solutions’ Safety & Compliance Training course library provides expert-authored online courses in categories ranging from athletics to special education to transportation. The library includes a “Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Athletes” course that explains the causes of sudden cardiac arrest and provides best practices for responding to these rare, but tragic, events when they occur. Vector also provides courses specifically regarding CPR, First Aid, and AEDs.

It’s critical for K-12 schools to have the proper equipment and training in place to prevent sudden cardiac death. A focus on prevention, education, and response could mean the difference between life and death.

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