Citizens and shopkeepers not doctors and nurses will be the most important “first responders” for getting through this year’s flu season, which thanks to the swine flu (H1N1) looks like it could be one of the worst on record. That is the conclusion of a recent Heritage research paper, Swine Flu: What every American Should Know:

Individuals, families, businesses, and community groups,” the study concludes, “can help to mitigate the effects of the flu season. Their plans should focus on contingencies if individuals need to stay home from school or work or if key personnel are not available for several days. The best and most effective responses will likely be developed and implemented locally. The greater the scope and severity of the pandemic, the more individuals in communities will need to rely on each other.

The role of small and medium business will be particularly critical.

Homeland Security agrees. The Secretary of Homeland Security yesterday announced the department has published a guide for how small companies can get through the flu season.

“Small businesses play an essential role in our national effort to prepare for all disasters and emergencies—including the H1N1 flu,” said Secretary Napolitano. “This guide will help America’s small businesses maintain continuity of operations and resiliency as the fall flu season approaches.”

“For countless small businesses, having even one or two employees out for a few days has the potential to negatively impact operations and their bottom line. A thoughtful plan will help keep employees and their families healthy, as well as protect small businesses and local economies.”

The secretary is right and the guide is worth following.