Is Your Fitness Facility Staff Prepared for a Sudden Cardiac Arrest Situation?


It is a busy Saturday morning at your fitness center. People of all ages are running on treadmills, lifting weights, taking classes and socializing in the locker room. It is a typical day until you hear these four dramatic words: "Help! He's not breathing!" Bystanders then rush to a club member collapsed on the floor.

The abrupt loss of heart function is likely the result of a sudden cardiac arrest, an increasingly common health emergency that claims more than 400,000 American lives annually. Although the number is staggering, you and your staff can take steps to aid a sudden cardiac arrest victim if you act quickly. 

To determine if your fitness center is properly equipped to handle a sudden cardiac arrest emergency, ask yourself:

  • Does my staff fully understand what sudden cardiac arrest is and how to recognize it?
  • Are there available, easily accessible automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in my facility?
  • Does my staff know where to locate the AED and how to operate it?
  • Are AEDs properly identified so visitors can react quickly?
  • Are you confident that your AED has been properly maintained and is in working order?

If the answer to any of these questions is "no," you and your club are at risk.  

A Deadly Health Risk

What many people may not realize is that sudden cardiac arrest claims more lives than breast cancer, motor vehicle accidents, stroke and leukemia combined. Additionally, a common misconception is that sudden cardiac arrest is the same as a heart attack. In fact, these two health problems are different. In simple terms, a heart attack is a "plumbing" problem where something such as a blocked artery or bad valve prevents proper blood circulation. Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by an "electrical" disturbance in the heart, resulting in a cessation of blood flow and complete loss of heart function. Often striking without warning, the health risk is deadly—nearly 92 percent of people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest do not survive.

The rate of survival drops 10 percent with each passing minute, so quick action is critical. When an AED is employed within three minutes of collapse, a victim's chance of survival can increase to more than 10 times the national average.

What Can Be Done

A sudden cardiac arrest can strike anyone, anywhere at any time. Although many fitness clubs have an AED on site, if the device is not easily accessible or employees do not understand how to use it, simply having the device is not enough. With one American experiencing sudden cardiac arrest every 90 seconds, the chance of a person falling victim while working out in your club is higher than you might think. Across the country, sudden cardiac arrest presents reputational and legal exposure that fitness club operators cannot ignore.

Preparedness Program

Implementing a cardiac emergency response program ensures that your fitness club is doing everything it can to protect its members, employees and guests should a sudden cardiac arrest occur. Programs are cost-effective and are simple to put into practice, especially when guided by a reputable, full-service company.

The key steps for complete program implementation at your site are:

Assessment: Trained professionals, guided by experience in the fitness and recreation space, perform a full assessment of your facility to determine how many AEDs are needed, where they should be placed and how many employees should be trained. This site survey considers square footage and layout, number of employees and average number of daily visitors, among other factors. Upon reviewing the assessment, recommendations will be made for implementation.

Equipment selection: A trained professional presents equipment options and helps club managers determine which device will work best. The company should have relationships with many manufacturers and suppliers, providing expert advice and cost-effective product options for the club.

Documentation: The company helps fitness club managers to create a customized preparedness program that fits their specific situation. Beware of "one size fits all" approaches since individual clubs have unique needs that must be met.

Training: Experienced professionals train the appropriate number of employees in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and teach them how to use AEDs. Training historically is conducted via in-person sessions, but online sessions can provide effective and convenient alternatives.

Compliance: A quality provider will ensure that the club complies with relevant laws, statutory requirements and regulations.

Communications: The company will provide guidance for the installation of signage so employees, members and other visitors can easily see where the AED is located. This will ensure that anyone who steps into the facility can identify where to find the device in an emergency situation.

Maintenance: The company provides a framework to monitor the devices for battery and pad expiration as well as other necessary updates providing assurance that the equipment will always be ready in case of emergency.

Consultation: The company should provide you with on-demand access to experts who can assist with logistics, field questions and tackle any other items that come up along the way.

A recent Harris Interactive survey found that almost seven in 10 Americans expect to find AEDs in fitness clubs. Implementing cardiac emergency response programs allows clubs to meet these expectations, improving their appeal to new and existing members. This financial and brand security is affordable. AEDs typically cost about $1,000 per device and all-in costs—including securing and maintaining a device as well as staff training—average less than $3 per day. Most importantly, implementing a well-thought-out preparedness program gives club managers the peace of mind to know they are doing the right thing. It allows them complete assurance that they have taken all necessary steps to protect their most valuable asset: their members. With hundreds of people engaging in strenuous physical activity at a fitness center each day, having a proper emergency program in place to handle a sudden cardiac arrest event is your best plan of protection for your members and your club.


Stacey Anger is the fitness and recreation practice leader of CardioReady, a suburban Philadelphia company that offers organizations turn-key preparedness and training solutions aimed at improving survival from sudden cardiac arrest. She can be reached at [email protected].

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