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Public Access Defibrillation

General information

A defibrillator is used to “restart” the heart following cardiac arrest. These machines have been used in hospitals since the 1960s and outside the hospital by emergency medical responders since the 1970s. Sudden cardiac arrest is usually the result of erratic electrical activity within the heart muscle causing the heart to quiver no blood to be pumped. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can restore some blood flow but it is essential that an electrical shock be delivered to the heart (defibrillation) in order to restore an effective heart rhythm.

Defibrillation FAQ

Q: Why is defibrillation important?
A: The sooner defibrillation occurs, the better the chance of the patient’s survival. Survival rates decrease approximately 10% with every minute the patient remains in cardiac arrest. Over the last decade automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) have become available. These machines are small, easily operated by a trained lay person, and have become increasingly affordable.

The San Mateo County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Agency encourages the placement of Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) in the community. Shopping centers, office buildings, golf courses, movie theaters, community centers, and school campuses are just a few examples of where AEDs may be located.

Q: Where can I learn how to operate an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED)?
A: Training programs should meet the standards of the American Heart Association or American Red Cross. Contact these two organizations for information about training programs. There are many courses available within the community. Most of the courses are four hours in length and will include CPR and AED.

Q: Where can I purchase an AED?
There are many vendors of AEDs. Please visit The American Heart Association website for more information.

Q Are there any state or local requirements for public access defibrillation?
A: California law requires that the purchaser of an AED notify the local EMS Agency. This is so that we will know where AEDs are placed within the community. You can complete the form by downloading it (PAD Notification Form) and emailing it to us at

State laws governing AEDs are posted on our website. Note that while California statutory law does not require that you have an AED medical director, current California regulations do contain such a requirement. This is because the State EMS Authority has not yet revised the regulations to match the statute. In a memo, the State EMS Director explains that statutes take precedence over regulations and, therefore, a physician is no longer required to authorize each individual to use an AED.

AED Forms