Why the Strategic National Stockpile wasn't prepared for the coronavirus spread

  • In 1999, President Clinton ordered the formation of the Strategic National Stockpile – a series of warehouses in secret locations across the country filled with medical supplies and personal protective equipment to be used in case of a natural disaster or health emergency.

  • Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Stockpile has already distributed about 90% of its resources, according to federal officials.
  • We asked the Department of Health and Human Services why the Stockpile didn’t have enough resources to meet the demand for PPE required by healthcare professionals.
  • However, thanks to billions in newly allocated funds from Congress and private contracts to replenish its warehouses, some much-needed help is heading to the Stockpile.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.Graham Flanagan: You’re looking at the inside of the Strategic National Stockpile. All around the country, in secret locations, there’s an unknown number of giant warehouses like this one filled with billions of dollars’ worth of emergency medical supplies. And you might think the stockpile could be the solution to get these supplies to the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, where healthcare professionals desperately need them. But it’s not that simple.Reporter: President Trump is facing questions about the role of the nation’s stockpile.Reporter: Why not just release that stockpile now?Donald Trump: We’re not an ordering clerk.Reporter: The Strategic National Stockpile is nearly depleted.Flanagan: On April 8, the Department of Health and Human Services said that about 90% of the personal protective equipment in the stockpile has already been distributed to state and local governments. So, what happened? Why wasn’t the stockpile ready for the coronavirus? We reached out to spokespeople at the Strategic National Stockpile, and they declined to make anybody available for an interview, but they did respond to our questions via email. According to a spokesperson, “The stockpile was…designed and resourced to address localised events like natural disasters such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks, rather than nationwide pandemic events.” It was formed in 1999 under President Bill Clinton. The series of secret warehouses reportedly contain about $US8 billion worth of vaccines, medicine, protective gear, ventilators, and other kinds of medical equipment, which should come as a relief amid the coronavirus.Reporter: Hospitals across the country are desperate the find the gowns and the gloves and the face shields.Flanagan: But while the stockpile exists to distribute items like these in a time of crisis, it doesn’t appear to have the inventory needed to satisfy the volume of requests.Andrew Cuomo: It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator.Flanagan: States running low on supplies can make a request to the stockpile, which then has to be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services before anything can be deployed.Jared Kushner: We’re asking people to be resourceful inside their states before they come to the federal government.Flanagan: President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said that some states are requesting supplies they may not need at the moment.Kushner: One congressman got a call from his local hospital saying, “I need 250 ventilators.” And he said, “Well, you don’t have a COVID patient within four counties, why do you want 250 ventilators?” And he says, “Well, we just want to be safe, we’re very nervous right now.” So what you have all over the country is a lot of people are asking for things that they don’t necessarily need at the moment.Flanagan: Even when stockpile supplies are approved to be deployed, there have still been some issues.Gavin Newsom: The 170 ventilators that came from the national stockpile were not working.Flanagan: Like when California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that 170 ventilators shipped from the stockpile showed up damaged. And thousands more in storage are reportedly unfit for use. So, how is the stockpile adjusting to these issues, if at all, to make a significant impact on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic? In a statement to Business Insider, the spokesperson said, “Because of the finite supply of PPE in the commercial supply chain, high transmission areas are prioritised, and quantities are based on population.”Reporter: The Department of Health and Human Services now has a contract with GM to manufacture 30,000 ventilators for the national stockpile.Flanagan: On April 8, federal officials announced that GM will replenish the stockpile’s depleted inventory of ventilators in a contract worth about $US489 million. The COVID-19 crisis is the biggest test that the Strategic National Stockpile has faced so far. Has it already failed? Or is it too early to tell? As part of the coronavirus aid package, $US16 billion was allocated to build up the stockpile with critical supplies. So with help on the way from the private sector, along with billions in new funds from Congress, the stockpile’s effectiveness in a crisis will continue to be tested.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.