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Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is the leading cause of death in athletes during exercise. The effectiveness of school-based automated external defibrillator (AED) programmes has not been established through a prospective study.A total of 2149 high schools participated in a prospective observational study beginning 1 August 2009, through 31 July 2011. Schools were contacted quarterly and reported all cases of SCA. Of these 95% of schools confirmed their participation for the entire 2-year study period. Cases of SCA were reviewed to confirm the details of the resuscitation. The primary outcome was survival to hospital discharge.School-based AED programmes were present in 87% of participating schools and in all but one of the schools reporting a case of SCA. Fifty nine cases of SCA were confirmed during the study period including 26 (44%) cases in students and 33 (56%) in adults; 39 (66%) cases occurred at an athletic facility during training or competition; 55 (93%) cases were witnessed and 54 (92%) received prompt cardiopulmonary resuscitation. A defibrillator was applied in 50 (85%) cases and a shock delivered onsite in 39 (66%). Overall, 42 of 59 (71%) SCA victims survived to hospital discharge, including 22 of 26 (85%) students and 20 of 33 (61%) adults. Of 18 student-athletes 16 (89%) and 8 of 9 (89%) adults who arrested during physical activity survived to hospital discharge.High school AED programmes demonstrate a high survival rate for students and adults who suffer SCA on school campus. School-based AED programmes are strongly encouraged.