Widespread provision of early defibrillation following cardiac arrest holds major promise for improved survival from ventricular fibrillation. The critical element in predicting a successful outcome is the rapidity with which defibrillation is achieved. A worldwide awareness of this potential and its advocacy by such organizations as the American Heart Association have been pivotal in the evolution of initiatives to make defibrillation more widely and more rapidly available. The feasibility of this initiative, known as public access defibrillation, is in large measure a direct consequence of major technologic advances in automated external defibrillators (AEDs). New low-energy waveforms with biphasic morphology have been shown to be more effective in terminating ventricular fibrillation and may do so with less myocardial injury. Placement of AEDs in a variety of nontraditional settings such as police cars, aircraft and airport terminals, and gambling casinos has been shown to yield an impressive number of survivors of cardiac arrest in ventricular fibrillation. Questions yet to be answered center on the appropriate disposition of AEDs in public access defibrillation settings, training and retraining issues, device maintenance, and collection of accurate data to document benefit and to identify areas of needed improvement or expansion of AED availability.