Elliot Fisch and Bruce Kusens had enough.

They were tired and frustrated after seeing countless stories of people dying in buildings from sudden cardiac arrests (SCA) even though there was an automated external defibrillator (AED) nearby.

SCA is a leading cause of death in the U.S., striking as many as 450,000 victims annually. The most important variable impacting SCA survival rates is the time it takes to deliver a first shock. Public health research demonstrates the importance of delivering a first shock within 4 to 5 minutes of the moment an individual experiences SCA. Yet, AEDs remain invisible to the community.

Despite the rapidly growing number of publicly placed AEDs, and the need for AEDs to be retrieved and used rapidly, 911 call takers and dispatchers generally lack critical information about the presence and location of these life saving devices.

“The dispatcher has no clue where these devices are… none,” says Fisch. “And they are the point person. We’re trained to dial 911.”

He adds that they also generally lack the ability to communicate with citizen AED responders who may be willing to retrieve and use AEDs when needed. As a result, SCA victims are dying at locations at or nearby publicly placed AEDs. For over three decades, the public health community has endeavored to improve out-of-hospital SCA survival rates throughout the U.S. Aggregate survival rates in the early 70s was 3 to 5 percent. It is estimated that the aggregate survival rates in 2009 will remain about the same.

“Data from the C.A.R.E.S. Center in Atlanta indicates that an AED is used less than 5 percent of the time when it’s needed and it’s onsite,” says Fisch. “That’s an awfully low number.”

Although 34 states have a notification requirement, meaning the owner of an AED has to register the device with their local EMS Medical Director, local dispatch center, or local ambulance, so dispatch will know where the latest AED is, many just don’t comply.

In fact, the American Heart Association even says it’s important for the local EMS system to know where AEDs are located in the community.

According to their Web site, “In the event of a sudden cardiac arrest emergency, the 9-1-1 dispatcher will know if an AED is on the premises and will be able to notify the EMS system as well as the responders already on the scene.”

“This is not done because there was no infrastructure within the EMS/9-1-1 system with which to do that,” says Fisch.

In response to this, Fisch and Kusens formed Atrus, Inc. in 2004. The South Florida-based company develops emergency response technologies to enable a more rapid lifesaving AED response within the community.

“We thought that just didn’t seem to be right, and wondered what caused that, why did that happen, and we started to look into that more,” says Fisch, president and CEO.

Not only did they recognize a business opportunity, more importantly, they saw this as an opportunity to save lives at the same time.

“AEDs alone do not save lives,” says Fisch, “people quickly using AEDs save lives but a person can’t quickly use an AED if they don’t know where one is.”

To address this challenge and to make publicly placed AEDs more rapidly available, Atrus created the nation’s first and only national database of AED locations and also developed the AED Link system.

The Atrus National AED Registry™ allows participating 911 agency dispatchers to know where AEDs are located so they can be found and used quickly when needed. This free resource also makes it easy for organizations with AEDs to comply with AED notification and registration laws and better maintain AEDs.

Using data contained in the registry, AED Link can also automatically notify nearby citizen AED responders of the need to bring an AED to the location of sudden cardiac arrest emergencies.

“We can make up to 300 simultaneous calls to everyone in your office who is signed up to be an AED responder and is willing to respond,” says Fisch. “Everyone will get that phone call at the same time, as well as a text message. We’re not waiting for one person. It’s all about time. We’d rather have three people coming with three AEDs than nobody.”

AED Link is designed to broaden the use of AEDs and broaden the scope of citizen AED responders. Any person interested in registering just has to go online at www.nationalaedregistry.com. People can register even if their community doesn’t subscribe to AED Link.

Dale Backlin, EMT-Paramedic, and public access defibrillation (PAD) coordinator for the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, PAD Program, in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, highly recommends AED Link.

“It is well documented, and widely accepted that early defibrillation increases the chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest,” he says. “Placing AEDs into public locations can improve the likelihood of early defibrillation occurring. However, it is not simply AEDs that save lives … systems save lives. AED Link plays a critical role in our complex EMS response system, by significantly improving the chances of AEDs being used within the critical minutes required when SCA occurs nearby.”

Currently there are about 1,000 AEDs in North America listed in the registry.

“There were many challenges at the beginning in creating the software,” says Fisch. “But the biggest challenges have been deployment. Even though cardiac arrest is the number one killer, and all EMS systems recognize this as a problem, it doesn’t seem to be a priority. There was always something else going on.”

But Fisch is hopeful that one year from now, they would have a presence in 10 to 12 cities or counties. “And five years from now, I would like to be in every major metropolitan area.”