President Barack Obama's administration refused a request from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to position a large cache of medical supplies in his city in case of a terrorist attack or other public health emergency at last weekend's NATO Summit, according to a source familiar with security planning for the event.
Prior to the two-day event, the city now headed by Obama's former White House chief of staff asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deploy several tractor trailers of supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile to Chicago two weeks before the summit. City officials wanted to be prepared in case something major went wrong at the summit, which the Secret Service designated as Chicago's first-ever "National Special Security Event."
According to someone familiar with the Strategic National Stockpile, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, Washington "basically thanked Chicago for the request and said they understand the significance of this event. However, we won’t be providing this capability."
Health and Human Services spokeswoman Elleen Kane denied the characterization. In an email to The Huffington Post, she cited Tom Sizemore, acting assistant secretary for preparedness and response, who wrote the government's response to Chicago. "Chicago city officials requested HHS support for the NATO summit, including that a … push pack be available," Kane said, referring to the 50-ton medical caches that are the first line of defense during a massive public health emergency. "We confirmed that a push pack would be available within 12 hours if needed. We have also provided 60 response personnel from HHS to the city for this event along with multiple tractor-trailers of equipment and supplies. The city officials working with us have indicated that we fully met all of their needs."
But the source, a former government official familiar with planning for the summit, told HuffPost that was "a play on words because they specifically asked to have a push package pre-deployed two weeks prior to the event. That’s what the letter asked." The source added that there may well have been HHS officials in the city during the summit, but none were connected to the Strategic National Stockpile.
UPDATE: 8:20 p.m. -- A Chicago city spokesperson who asked for anonymity issued this statement in response to HuffPost's questions:
Standard operation for emergency response by the City of Chicago includes preparing for possible medical emergencies with medication and related supplies. The City requested additional supplies from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) be “pre-deployed” to the City as a precautionary option while planning emergency response leading up to the NATO summit this weekend. HHS did not deny the request –- they applauded the City’s efforts to ensure the safety and security of NATO Summit attendees and the people of Chicago, pre-deployed 60 response personnel as well as additional equipment and supplies, and assured the City that additional medical supplies requested would be available if necessary in the event of an emergency, within the standard time frame of less than 12 hours.
Dozens of people were injured in weekend protests at the gathering of world leaders in Obama's hometown. Organizers had been planing for months for far greater casualties at the first American NATO meeting held outside Washington. Area hospitals recently performed drills to prepare for a radioactive dirty bomb explosion and local FBI chief Robert Grant told Chicago businesspeople, "Weapons of mass destruction and all those things that scare people at night -- that's my world."
Such nightmare scenarios are why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent more than $10 million last year to train Chicago public health workers how to respond to a large-scale bio-terrorist event. Yet when it came to pre-deploying enough medicine and supplies to deal with the first hours of such an emergency, the federal government didn't follow through, the source said.
Known as 12-hour push packages because they can be delivered anywhere in the U.S. within 12 hours, the caches contain antibiotics, antidotes, vaccines, intravenous fluids, carbon dioxide detectors, bandages and other emergency supplies. They have been sent to natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina and have been pre-positioned at the Super Bowl, political conventions and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Despite 7,000 delegates and staff, 2,000 international journalists plus thousands of protesters who jammed downtown streets, the Health and Human Services official turned down Chicago's request to put in place the medical supplies in a May 15 letter.
"It was really kind of embarrassing and shameful that they just didn’t support this. We were shocked, to say the least," said the source, who saw the refusal as the latest example of the Obama White House not taking bioterror prevention and response efforts seriously.