Public Health

Pandemic Panic

DHS isn't ready


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has spent many years and millions of dollars preparing for a pandemic. But in October, with an Ebola outbreak threatening, DHS Inspector General John Roth admitted that federal stockpiles of supplies and drugs were in disarray.

"We could not determine the basis for DHS' decisions on how much or what types of pandemic preparedness supplies to purchase, store, or distribute," he wrote in his testimony to a House Oversight Committee hearing, citing a report assembled by his office two months earlier.

DHS had acquired 350,000 white coverall suits and 16 million surgical masks, for instance, but could not explain how it arrived at those numbers. The department did have estimates for the amounts of retroviral drugs it needed, but it didn't follow its own recommendations when it came time to make purchases.

The agency has a large supply of antibiotics, but the often-delicate drugs were warehoused in poor conditions, so the medications very likely can't be used. Eighty-four percent of the stockpile of hand sanitizer is likely expired. And the entire DHS cache of respirators is expected to be unusable after 2015.

All of which may be irrelevant, since the agency can't find the stuff anyway. "DHS did not readily know how much protective equipment it had on hand or where the equipment was being stored," Roth said.