July 5, 2016

Preparing for disaster: Why CDC is stockpiling medical supplies in secret warehouses

Daily Briefing

    The U.S. government stockpiles medications and medical equipment in secret warehouses as part of its efforts to prepare for national emergencies, Nell Greenfieldboyce reports for NPR's "To Your Health."

    The supplies are part of CDC's Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), which began in 1999. The program stocks medical supplies needed to respond to emergencies such as biological, chemical or nuclear terrorist attacks.

    The stockpile's inventory includes:

    • Antibiotics;
    • Antivirals to combat an influenza pandemic;
    • Chemical agent antidotes;
    • Intravenous fluids;
    • Medicines to treat radiation sickness and burns;
    • Vaccines against bioterror agents;
    • Ventilators; and
    • Wound care supplies.

    SNS Director Greg Burel said, "If you envision, say, a Super Walmart and stick two of those side by side and take out all the drop ceiling, that's about the same kind of space that we would occupy in one of these storage locations."

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    The exact number of SNS warehouses is undisclosed. However, a former government official at a public meeting recently said there are six such facilities.

    According to Burel, SNS' current inventory is valued "at a little over $7 billion." The SNS' budget is over half a billion dollars annually.

    Gryphon Scientific (GS), a consulting firm, recently conducted an analysis of the stockpiling efforts. While the results cannot be discussed publicly, GS head Rocco Casagrande said, "[A]cross the variety of threats that we examined, [SNS] has the adequate amount of materials in it and by and large the right type of thing."

    SNS could face inventory, distribution challenges

    However, SNS can face challenges acquiring new medications, which can be costly and may expire within a few years.

    Tara O'Toole, a former Department of Homeland Security official, noted that SNS' budget has not increased to meet the demand for increasing the stockpile's inventory. She said, "This is an unsustainable plan," adding, "And [experts] don't think there's enough money to do what the stockpile says it must do, already."

    In addition, O'Toole cited staffing cuts to local health departments that would receive supplies from the stockpile as an obstacle to ensuring the supplies would be distributed effectively.

    Paul Petersen, Tennessee's director of emergency preparedness, said, "Many jurisdictions across the [United States] have less staff and less resources available to them to surge up in large-scale events," which he said is "a risk."

    O'Toole called on Congress to focus more attention on SNS, noting that the matter is a national security issue (Greenfieldboyce, "To Your Health," NPR, 6/27).

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    Hospitals must be prepared for myriad disasters that can stress health care systems to the breaking point and disrupt delivery of vital health care services.

    Advisory Board has compiled step-by-step procedures for various threats your facility may encounter—though we hope you'll never need to use them.

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