Although the Ebola and Zika outbreaks in the United States never reached the catastrophic heights projected by some public health experts, these crises demonstrated that the United States is not immune to potentially devastating pandemic events threatening the health and security of the nation.
However, major gaps in the pandemic preparedness efforts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of the primary agencies leading the nation’s public health preparedness efforts, leave the United States unprepared for a pandemic event, according to a recent audit by the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Specifically, DHS OIG said the Department does not always provide clear guidance or sufficient oversight of component’s pandemic plans, implementation of pandemic readiness training, completion ofreporting requirements and identification of the personal protective equipment and supplies needed for a pandemic response.
“Maintaining oversight to ensure components have adequately planned and prepared for pandemics is critical to allowing components to maintain their mission essential functions when a pandemic occurs,” the report stated. “As a result, the department cannot be assured that its preparedness plans can be effectively executed during a pandemic event.”
This is not the first time a DHS OIG audit has revealed vulnerabilities in the Department’s public health preparedness efforts. During a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing held in October 2014, DHS IG John Roth testified that the Department had not effectively managed and overseen its inventory of pandemic preparedness supplies.
For example, the stockpile contained 4,982 bottles of hand sanitizer, most of which was expired. Moreover, the Transportation Security Administration’s stock of pandemic protective equipment included about 200,000 respirators that were beyond the 5-year usability guaranteed by the manufacturer.
DHS OIG’s most recent report outlined seven recommendations to improve DHS’s planning for pandemic preparedness. The Department concurred with all of the recommendations and has already implemented corrective actions.
“The Department will continue to take concrete, substantive steps forward in the way it prepares for and responds to a pandemic, emerging infectious disease, or large-scale biological attack,” DHS responded in a letter. “The OIG’s reports in these areas represent valuable resources for informing these efforts.”
For more on Homeland Security Today’s reporting on pandemic preparedness problems and issues, click here.