The purpose of this study was to describe the chain of survival in Amsterdam and its surroundings and to suggest areas for improvement. To ensure accurate data, collection was made by research personnel during the resuscitation, according to the Utstein recommendations. Between June 1, 1995 and August 1, 1997 all consecutive cardiac arrests were registered. Patient characteristics, resuscitation characteristics and time intervals were analyzed in relation to survival. From the 1046 arrests with a cardiac etiology and where resuscitation was attempted, 918 cases were not witnessed by EMS personnel. The analysis focussed on these 918 patients of whom 686 (75%) died during resuscitation, 148 (16%) died during hospital admission and 84 patients (9%) survived to hospital discharge. Patient and resuscitation characteristics associated with survival were: age, VF as initial rhythm, witnessed arrest and bystander CPR. EMS arrival time was significantly shorter for survivors (median 9 min) compared to non-survivors (median 11 min). In 151 cases the police was also alerted and arrived 5 min (median) earlier than EMS personnel. Using the OPC/CPC good functional health was observed in 50% of the survivors and moderate performance in 29%. All links in the chain of survival must be strengthened, but equipping the police with semi-automatic defibrillators may be the most useful intervention to improve survival.