Search Google News for articles on the "Strategic National Stockpile" and you'll get a slim 1,480, a low quantity befitting a program studded with secrets. The SNS falls under the auspices of the CDC, which was in 1999 given congressional funding in order to stockpile what now tallies up to $7 billion in inventory: antibiotics, chemical antidotes, vaccines, antitoxins, and other medical items that would be needed in the event of, say, a pandemic flu or chemical-weapon attack in the United States. As for where the SNS warehouses (there are possibly six) are located, "This is not public information," per a government website, but NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce got a look inside one—after signing a confidentiality agreement that barred her from saying anything about the exterior.
Among the things she noticed inside: A massive American flag; a caged area containing potentially addictive drugs; a huge freezer stocked with items requiring colder temps; rows of ventilators that are charged monthly and serviced annually; shipping containers pre-stocked with 50 tons of goods, ready to be sent to local public health officials if needed; and shelves "so tall that looking up makes me dizzy." One interesting wrinkle: expiration dates. The dates on every item needs to be checked so expired ones can be tossed, meaning vast sums of money are spent on items that will ultimately be discarded. That's not to say the stockpile hasn't been called upon. The first deployment was in June 2001, when 200 ventilators and related supplies were sent to Houston in the wake of Tropical Storm Allison; three months later, SNS provided items following 9/11. (Read more medicine stories.)