As Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, heart-shaped decorations pop up, and loved ones are top of mind, it is important to think about the hearts we cannot see.

Heart disease is among the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, February is American Heart Health Month. The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad strives to raise awareness of the disease and prevent cardiac-related deaths by administering the university’s Public Access automated external defibrillators (AED) program.

An AED is a device that delivers an electric shock to the heart and allows it to re-establish an effective rhythm in the case of sudden cardiac arrest. The goal of the on-campus AED program is to increase the survival rate of individuals who have suffered sudden cardiac arrest.

A person who receives defibrillation, an electric shock aimed at restarting the heart, within minutes has a dramatically greater chance of surviving than someone who does not receive a shock. The only device that can provide this shock is an AED.

There are more than 180 AEDs in place throughout the Blacksburg campus and Virginia Tech greater Washington, D.C., area facilities, most often located in highly visible, high-pedestrian traffic areas. The all-student-run rescue squad leads the operation, maintenance, and inspections of these devices.

The squad appoints an AED coordinator each year to oversee the program. Joe Clift currently serves as AED coordinator. Clift recently graduated from Virginia Tech in December 2020 with his bachelor’s in biological sciences and a minor in chemistry.

As AED coordinator, Clift is responsible for the maintenance of all campus AEDs, budget allocation, raising awareness for the AED program, delivering ongoing educational programming for the campus community, and coordinating new requests for AEDs.

“In the event of sudden cardiac arrest, an AED provides the highest chance for resuscitation. Having AEDs in common spaces, readily accessible could mean the difference between life and death. In the event of an emergency, the 9-1-1 dispatcher may ask the caller if there is an AED close by. In this instance, the dispatcher will direct the caller to the closest AED and walk the individual through the steps to use the AED to assist the patient while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive,” said Clift.

“The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad is proud to partner with the university community to offer this critical program in Virginia Tech facilities.”

To use an AED, individuals should be trained in cardopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in order for the AED to be used effectively. CPR training can be scheduled through Virginia Tech Environmental Health and Safety and the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad. Learn more about first aid training here.

Many of the AED stations also have Stop the Bleed Kits within them. Virginia Tech Emergency Management offers Stop the Bleed training to the university community throughout the year.

Questions about the AED program, maintenance issues, and requests for new AEDS may be directed to

The latest Virginia Tech Rescue Squad schedule of educational programming can be found here.

Written by Christy Myers

Related links:

Share this story