Human Touch Is Always Important

Back in March I had mentioned that we were in the process of re-evaluating our emergency procedures and noted we had recently had automated external defibrillators (AED) installed.

If you aren’t familiar with them, AEDs are designed to save lives by essentially talking untrained people through the process of shocking a person’s heart back into a normal rhythm. The machine can detect a normal heartbeat so that you can’t actually use it on someone who doesn’t need it. (Such as part of a fraternity prank.) In fact, it is apparently mandated that the machine rather than a human make the decision as to whether a shock should be administered. The devices were first deployed around O’Hare airport and were such a success at saving lives, you can see them placed all over these days.

I was refreshing my CPR/First Aid training today in a session that also dealt with AED use. Due to my impression that the machines empowered an untrained person to save a life, I was surprised to learn that CPR training was an essential component of AED use and training. The AED isn’t of any use on those whose hearts have stopped but can help if your efforts at CPR have managed to establish a rhythm. (Our model at least coaches you on whether your compressions are deep enough and provides metronome cues to keep you on pace.) Of course, CPR should be started while you are waiting for the AED to be retrieved.

There are apparently companies that eschew the CPR training and insist only on the AED training depending pretty much entirely on its abilities and those of anyone who may be passing at the time. I don’t care if the machine gets to decide whether to administer a shock. Given how much arts organizations depend on the goodwill of that community, I can’t imagine eliminating human contact in favor of a machine is wise when it comes to life saving. It was a good idea to have some CPR trained staff before the AED came on the scene and it still seems prudent even with the presence of equipment that greatly increases survival rates.

Another interesting tidbit I learned, though I can’t attest to its veracity, is that most of the first AEDs manufactured were red. Given the association of red with emergency services, this seems logical. According to our trainer, lay people were less likely to use the AEDs because they perceived them to be emergency personnel only equipment. Seems reasonable, but maybe he was just trying convince us to accept ugly neon green AEDs.

While that little fact has nothing to do with the importance of training our staffs, it does illustrate just how important even the most subtle design choices can influence people. (And lends credence to the consultants who get paid to obsess over what tie a political candidate is going to wear.)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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