On Oct. 15, Dr. Graham Nichol, UW professor of medicine and director of the UW-Harborview Center for Prehospital Emergency Care, launched MyHeartMap Seattle. This was a month-long, city-wide scavenger hunt to discover all of Seattle’s automated external defibrillators, or AEDs. The winner or winning team would be awarded $10,000 provided to Nichol’s research efforts by the Food and Drug Administration and several AED companies. Thirty-two teams signed up to participate. The AED sightings started rolling in.
On Twitter, teams posted selfies with AEDs, asked for hints, and celebrated when they found “golden AEDs,” which were worth $50 extra. The contest was extremely close.
One month later, Nichol announced the winning team: Team HeartMarket, a group of six 20-somethings with a serious love for scavenger hunts, had found 800 AEDs.
Rebecca Bridge heard about the contest through a Google alert for the phrase “scavenger hunt.” She described the four frantic weeks her team spent searching: “Health clubs, dentist offices, hotels, office buildings. Sometimes they were locked up somewhere.”
The contest required some sleuthing. One evening, while having dinner on Capitol Hill, Rebecca and her teammate Mike Pantoliano walked by Seattle Academy’s open house for parents. They just looked at other and proceeded inside to what turned out to be a gold mine of defibrillators.
Fellow HeartMarket teammates were Ben Estes, Lara Petersburg, Megan Singley, Miranda Rensch, and Aaron Wheeler. Mike said that often the folks he encountered at the front desk of a business didn’t know what an AED was, or were immediately suspicious.
“They thought we were there to ticket or fine them for not having one,” he said.
In some cases, employees would direct Team HeartMarket to an area of the building where they might have an AED. The searchers would find a fire extinguisher instead.
“We developed an irrational hatred of fire extinguishers,” joked Mike.
Although there is currently no legal penalty associated with not having an AED, keeping one on hand in areas frequented by many people is a good idea. These medical devices are extremely important in saving lives. When combined with CPR, the use of an AED improves survival rates for sudden cardiac arrest by almost half. Before the contest began, Nichol and his team knew of roughly 250 registered AEDs in various public locations like schools and public buildings. Now his team is sorting through over 2,000 reportings. After eliminating duplicates, they expect a potential database of at least 1,500.
MyHeartMapSeattle was the second of two AED hunts in the United States. The first, in Philadelphia, was orchestrated by Dr. Raina Merchant, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Both contests arose from the need to map and monitor defibrillators. The FDA has publicly stated a desire to monitor these devices to see how often they are used and how they affect the survival rate of sudden cardiac arrest. So, rather than sending one person or even a team of hourly-paid individuals to search each city building by building, researchers decided to hold a contest to capitalize on the recent success of crowdsourcing. Eventually, the FDA hopes to place unique labels (QR codes) on each defibrillator.
The inspiration for the HeartMap project was the DARPA Red Balloon Challenge, a 2009 contest/experiment that offered $40,000 to the person or team that was able to submit the exact locations of 10 large red, weather balloons hidden in plain sight all around the United States. The winning team located all 10 balloons in just under 9 hours. Armed with this knowledge, researchers were able to secure funding from the FDA and several AED companies to offer the $10,000 reward.
Of course, the other purpose for tracking and mapping AEDs is that they are designed for public use. Any person can follow the directions correctly and deliver the electrical current that could correct an irregular heartbeat and save a person’s life. CPR can sustain a victim’s life, but without an AED the survivor could still suffer brain damage or death. Having a map of AEDs will allow 911 operators to pinpoint a location and relay that information to a bystander before a first-responder can make it to the scene. With modern technology, it’s possible that each city could have a comprehensive location-based smartphone app that would allow a bystander to find the nearest AED with the swipe of a finger.
For now, Nichol and Merchant and their teams have inspired other cities to hold their own scavenger hunts, and they’re taking the show on the road. There’s no word yet as to exactly where the next HeartMapChallenge will be, but we can bet $10,000 it will be a fruitful endeavor.
Oh, and Seattle, if you’re wondering… After downtown, HeartMarket’s guess is that Capitol Hill is the next best heart-friendly neighborhood.