When you roll into a convention facility with your servers and routers and monitors and cables, I can almost guarantee you won't have a critical piece of high-tech equipment on hand--and most likely the facility won't either. Worst of all, you will never know it's missing until the unthinkable happens.

I'm talking about an automated external defibrillator, or AED for short. This portable lifesaving device can jump-start a heart in cardiac arrest by sending an electrical shock to interrupt a malfunction of the heart called ventricular fibrillation.

If you think that AEDs are the purview of paramedics and police officers, that's no longer true. These devices are now found on airplanes, golf courses, and at sporting arenas--and even at some forward-thinking meeting facilities. The Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel & Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, for example, purchased two AEDs in 1997. In June 1998, one of them saved the life of Jack Byron, a hotel guest visiting from Arizona who collapsed in a corridor. A bellman began cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and within three minutes, security had arrived with the defibrillator.

Of the estimated 350,000 people in the United States who suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital each year, only about 5 percent live. Byron was the first in Girdwood's history.

An AED is about the size of a laptop computer and is literally easy enough for a child to use: This past October, Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association reported on a study of sixth-grade students that showed that after one minute of instruction, it took the children less than 30 seconds longer than a trained professional to apply a shock that could restore a heartbeat.

Ask about AEDs on your next site inspection. You'll probably get a blank stare, but if enough people start asking, perhaps more meeting facilities will make the small investment (about $3,000) in these priceless machines.

If you want more information on AEDs, contact the American Heart Association (800) 242-8721, www.americanheart.org.

Major AED manufacturers include Medtronic Physio-Control (425) 867-4000, www.physiocontrol.com;

Agilent Technologies HP Heartstream (206) 664-7630, www.heartstream.com; and Survivalink (612) 939-4181, www.survivalink.com.