By Jamie Thompson
DALLAS — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted Thursday the swine flu vaccine is unlikely to be ready for the start of the next expected wave of the virus, and urged the fire service to be ready for outbreaks.
"In all likelihood, this flu will be back on our shores before any vaccine is available," she said.
Secretary Napolitano said shots to protect against the H1N1 virus should be available about mid-October.
During an address to Fire-Rescue International in Dallas, Secretary Napolitano said fire departments should begin planning for high rates of absenteeism, not only due to member sickness but from those having to stay at home to tend to children with the virus.
Secretary Napolitano urged departments to begin looking at leave and overtime policies. "Do it now, before we are in the midst of this next flu season," she said.
Fire departments also need to play a lead role in ensuring residents in their districts are well-informed and knowledgeable about the virus, Secretary Napolitano said.
She went on to say departments also needed to take a major role in promoting September's 'National Preparedness Month,' an annual initiative that encourages all all Americans to take steps to prepare for emergencies before they happen.
"All over the country, we need to have a culture of preparedness, we need recognize that safety and security is not just the responsibility of federal agencies … that everybody has a role to play here," Secretary Napolitano said.
There needs to be a culture of shared "responsibility, " Secretary Napolitano said. Addressing fire chiefs in the audience, she said, "You as community leaders can help us share that message and think about how you can talk about this in your own cities."
Secretary Napolitano, who was last week named in Forbes Magazine's 2009 World's 100 Most Powerful Women, opened her speech by telling the conference her department aimed to work closely with the fire service.
"We want to be an effective partner with you and help to provide the resources that you need for the job you have undertaken," she said.
The Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Napolitano said, covers a wide mission, with perhaps the most important being the ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies of "whatever type."
Referring to this year's conference theme of "Leadership in Tough Times," Secretary Napolitano said, "I know that these are indeed tough times.
"We are going to work with you day in and day out to see what we can do to help mitigate some of these hardships."