The Rest of the Store

February 6, 2015

Have you ever wondered what the supermarket sells that you never buy? I visit my local chain grocery store about three times each week, always with a list. The list doesn’t change very much from week to week. Most supermarkets carry over 43,844 items (2013, Most shoppers buy 260 items each year (.0059% of the 43,844 items). I regularly purchase about fifty, or .00114%. Not bad; but we do spend about $1200/month on food for a family of two, plus another $250/month on average dining out. I wonder what we would spend if I entered the mysterious aisles or stopped and shopped along the perimeter of the store.

If I survey the perimeter of our local store, the sections I never frequent make up 60% of the shelf and cooler space, not counting the aisles. I pass by the deli counter, butcher and fish counters, all sorts of meats, juices, dairy, yogurt, cheese and ice cream, and finish by passing by the fresh bakery. None of these sections have items I buy.

The aisles are even a greater mystery to me. The first I call the “TV Sports Food Aisle.” It has hundreds of brands of cold beer, enough chips and salsa to supply a Carrier Dome basketball crowd, and most of it from brands more recent than my last Lowenbrau or tall-neck Piels beer purchased of the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve had about one beer per year in the last dozen years. No loss; I don’t have a TV either. Without TV advertising, one doesn’t know such an array of products exists. It was interesting to see a woman picking up beer and chips while using her cell phone to order pizza to be delivered by the time she was to arrive home. No cooking on game night!

Next is the cereal aisle where an uninformed mother can select breakfast cereals for her children by the pictures on the boxes, hundreds of them. Oddly, the basic Cheerios box looks about the same as it did 45 years ago, when my son ate them one at a time (now there are eleven types of Cheerios according to Consumer Reports). Then there is still Life cereal, though enhanced with flavors, which captured my attention every morning for 20 years when I served in public education. I gained about two pounds per year for 20 years. Here’s where I imagine the “Sugar Rapture” and envision what might be left behind if all the sugar went to the next life. Cereal boxes might look like New England’s underinflated footballs.

Then there is the cracker aisle. Imagine buying one box of crackers each week and saving them until Christmas. A two-year old could have a marvelous set of blocks, and even open a box to munch on a cracker or two. Wow! Blocks with treats inside!

Canned fruits and vegetables are in the next two aisles, next to the condiments. I’ll admit to picking up an occasional can of artichoke hearts or a jar of olives, but prefer the sauerkraut from the local Polish Meat Market where they make it fresh. I wonder about the nutritional value of canned vegetables when compared to the items in the produce aisle or the farmer’s market.

Then there is almost an entire aisle devoted to peanut butter and jelly. They are even listed on the overhead aisle signs. Once again, I envision the Sugar Rapture. Next aisle is bread, hundreds of varieties of loaves of bread – white, wheat, rye, old-fashioned white, honey wheat, Jewish rye, cinnamon bread, whole grain, multi-grain, sixteen grain, hot dog rolls, hamburger rolls, and rolls of every size and shape. Then there are pita breads, flatbreads, naan, and a dozen flavors of wraps.

Did I miss the soda, juice and bottled water aisle? How could I? It should be back lit to create an artistic array of marvelous colors, so many one couldn’t have imaged sugar could have such a place in the world of electric sculpture. Surely, the soda aisle must have inspired Dale Chihuly’s glass blowing art. Remember when we got water from the tap? Now we can pay for it, dispose of the empty plastic bottles, and enjoy flavoring in what used to be “the benefit of pure water from our wells.”

I’d be like a child in a toy store if I started to survey the expensive frozen food cabinets. These must have been invented before people learned to cook at home. There is box after box of frozen meals, desserts, vegetables, fruits, pizzas, and too many other items for me to identify. It does feel good in that aisle on a warm summer day.

Most shoppers buy 260 items each year (.0059% of the 43,844 items). I regularly purchase about fifty, or .00114%. Not bad; but we do spend about $1200/month on food for a family of two, plus another $250/month on average dining out. I wonder what we would spend if I entered the mysterious aisles or stopped and shopped along the perimeter. Think I’ll wait for the fish man’s weekly stop in the village, the farmer’s market, and the great food at the natural food store. We purchase from our local natural food store and local farmers who provide free-range eggs, chicken, beef , pork, lamb, turkey and goat cheese. The natural food store sells us organic frozen, dark, unsweetened cherries and unsweetened almond beverage by the case. There we also find an excellent assortment of fresh spices, millet, dried beans, bulk nuts, and “very locally grown,” fresh vegetables.

It’s also a benefit to me to purchase food where the vendor knows my name, not just whether I want to use debit or credit.


Webinar on Storm Prediction

Check out FEMA’s academic requirements for this job.QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED:
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The qualification requirements listed below must be met by the closing date of the announcement.

You qualify for this position if you possess one of the following:

One year of specialized experience performing special studies or projects identifying, preparing, and implementing data collection plans in support of planning programs and maintaining the situational information collection plan in support of planning for major disaster field operations at the Federal, State or local level.
Credentialed and qualified as a NIMS Situation Unit Leader or am in a commensurate position in a non-NIMS compliant organization and have performed this position on multiple incidents.
A Bachelor’s degree in a related field and meeting at least one of the following requirements of Superior Academic Achievement:
1) Class Standing – Being in the upper 1/3 of your graduating class; 2) A GPA of 3.0 or higher out of 4.0, as recorded on your official transcript, or based on courses completed during your final 2 years of curriculum; 3) A GPA of 3.5 or higher out of 4.0, based on the average of required courses completed in your major or required courses in major completed during your final 2 years of curriculum; 4) Member of national scholastic honor society that meets the requirements of the Association of College Honor Societies.
At least one year of graduate level education (18 semester/27 quarter hours) in a field directly related to the duties of the position; or
A combination of specialized experience and related graduate level education that, when combined, meet the qualification requirements for this position.

Communication Students Are Our Future

Communication Students Are Our Future
By Dr. Tom Phelan

In my work across several colleges, training centers, and client sites, I have often discussed crisis communication as a liberal art – dealing not only with the rapid delivery of critical messages, but also with cultures, historical referents, and literacy issues. My students have listened to my rants on communication with the notion that the focus of our messages should be on the reception by intended audiences as a message is crafted. From experiences in ice storms of the 1990’s to Ground Zero, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy, it has been clear to me that we must teach communication more broadly to our students. In addition, we need to provide the same lessons to adult learners in the fields of emergency management and crisis communication.
With these thoughts in mind, I was today encouraged when I had the privilege to read a passage by one of my wife’s students of communication. The student writer impressed me with her comments related to the study of communication at the undergraduate level. We should all be encouraged.

“While my ideas, plans, and perspectives have progressed throughout this past semester, my intrigue and passion for communication remains the same. Communication is different from other disciplines, in that it is the study of the medium that articulates our existence. Through communication, we both shape and define our society. Through communication, we change and restructure our society. I am fascinated by the ways we use communication to both shape and define our world.
The first preliminary draft explored my areas of interest within communication. I wished to examine how communication practices within an organization are influenced by its structure, particularly when confronted with a crisis. This topic was influenced by my interest in both the communication and public policy disciplines,. . .” (C. Power, 2014, Final Preliminary Draft: Total Institutions, Unpublished manuscript, Department of Communication, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, p. 2).

The “Status Quo” Isn’t

The “Status Quo” Isn’t

By Dr. Tom Phelan
We often hear seasoned veterans in the emergency management field wanting to maintain the “status quo” instead of embracing change (“ status quo – the existing state of affairs” Retrieved from ). Most recently, I have observed this when new technologies are introduced that can improve emergency preparedness, prevention, response, recovery or mitigation. In most areas of our lives, what one refers to as “status quo” is something with a shorter-than-realized permanence. Most things of which we have awareness haven’t been around very long.

We have accepted cable and satellite television over VHF/UHF rooftop-fixed antennas, cell phones over land lines, hybrid cars over purely gas-powered, turf over grass playing fields, spray foam over fiberglass insulation, and fast food over home-cooked meals. Still, we are resisting the most recently developed technologies that may have a huge impact on saving lives in emergencies and disasters.

What exactly is the “status quo”? Is it that with which we are comfortable and familiar; is it fixed in place and paid for; is it what we grew up with; or could it be something “local” in a community somewhat sheltered from modern advances elsewhere in the world? It could simply be the way things are today, regardless of how long they have been here. Is it anything other than “change”?

Are we truly opposed to change, or is it just too much of a bother to learn something new and use it as comfortably as what we already know and use? For certain, the number of newly developed systems, devices, applications, and tools is vast. Learning about all of them might be a bit overwhelming. Trying to implement even one new technology at a time can be problematic and challenging.

In my world as an educator, trainer, consultant in emergency management, change is ever present. There was a time when all instruction was face-to-face in a classroom. Seeking clients was over lunch, at a conference, or traveling to client sites. Contracting, billing and receiving payment all occurred via U.S. Mail or fax. I cannot comment on how permanent things are today, for tomorrow something new will appear. Most of the changes involve computer applications. Many are far more efficient and speedy than the aforementioned methods. The Federal Government uses SAM and now pays by electronic fund transfers (EFT) within fifteen (15) days of receipt of an invoice. Prime contractors are using Internet-based payroll systems allowing for registering with them via e-mail and digital, PDF pay stubs and advance notice of payment via EFTs. Work products are uploaded via SharePoint and Drop Box, regardless of the size of the files. Travel time has been reduced considerably allowing for maintenance of lower rates and more time to get work done. Online education and training has come into its own with valid, rigorous course designs and measurable student outcomes.

The “status quo” is a notion of something other than something new and different. It should not be used as an excuse to resist productive change. In emergency management, whether in education, training or practice, we need to embrace advantageous changes. One way to adopt new technologies is to learn about them, evaluate them and implement them. Another way is to invite younger personnel to join our ranks. They are often more familiar with newer technologies. Either way, embracing change seems a better way to go than to resist by staying with the “status quo.”

resist productive change. In emergency management, whether in education, training or practice, we need to embrace advantageous changes. One way to adopt new technologies is to learn about them, evaluate them and implement them. Another way is to invite younger personnel to join our ranks. They are often more familiar with newer technologies. Either way, embracing change seems a better way to go than to resist by staying with the “status quo.”

The Cycle of Career Education

CTE, Tech Prep, School-to-Work, Occ Ed, Vocational Education, Technology, Industrial Arts, Shop

Everything evolves. There are cycles in education as there are in finance, politics, and popular culture. We have stressed college preparation in our secondary schools since the nation was founded. Those who engaged in manual labor found their way without formal education. With new inventions and fields – electric power, radio, television, automatic transmissions, waste treatment facilities, and construction, to name a few – we have always needed technicians and mechanics.
In the 1960’s, I had my first exposure to classes in wood shop, electric shop, printing and metal shop. Coming from a family where only my Dad engaged in creating cement pottery as a side line, I had very little experience with any form of “trade.” All of the aforementioned classes were required of boys in the junior high school I attended. The girls took home economics.
Attending high school in both a college and IBM town, courses were offered mostly in college prep with some courses in mechanical drawing, auto mechanics, airplane mechanics, television production, and pre-computer keyboarding. We were taught on manual typewriters.
After graduating from college in 1969 and teaching high school English, public speaking and theater, the shop courses became, “Industrial Arts.” Still, changes in business and industry required skilled craft persons. The rural public high school had half-day vocational education classes, taught at a regional vocational center. The courses of study were quite popular among students not planning to attend college, or counseled away from college prep due to someone’s idea that they were academically “challenged.” Fields of study included cosmetology, culinary arts, auto mechanics, construction trades, welding, and practical nursing. The terms occupational and vocational education were common.
By the time I entered my third administrator’s position, the new curriculum in technology and home/career skills had been created. We piloted both at the middle school level. Topics included hydroponic gardening in technology class and budgeting in home and career skills. By this time (1981-85), we had Apple computers, so I created a room called the Apple Orchard with 12 Apple II desk tops. We had computer skills classes where students learned word processing (Superscribe) and spreadsheets (Visicalc).
In the 1980’s we emphasized occupational/vocational programs for students deemed underachievers with respect to college prep. God bless them. Today, they are the welders, mechanics, cosmetologists, nurses, chefs and computer technicians that keep us all happy.
The ‘90s brought Tech Prep and School-to-Work. After serving a brief time as an assistant superintendent and later, a training specialist, I entered the corporate training/career development world. There, I recognized the pressing need for skilled workers. We used to have Boy/Girl Scouts and the military as “farm teams,” but neither were providing the number of skilled workers we needed in the power utility business. So, I joined the Tech Prep movement at the community college level. As a business/industry representative, I witnessed career development programs where public (K-12) school personnel teamed with community college personnel to explore additional opportunities for students by matching business and industry needs with community college curriculum. It proved successful until the job market changed in the late ‘90s. Then, once again, the focus shifted away from vocational education to four-year college degrees.
So here we are again, full circle, offering a STEM focus for college prep and CTE for everyone else. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is the focus on the new “Common Core” curriculum for K-12. I was amazed to hear from my 8th grade granddaughter this weekend, that her school had STEAM, adding the arts (A) to STEM. At this same time, there is a resurgence of Career Technical Education (CTE). Someone has once again realized that a two-track system will better meet the needs of society. There are those who create innovative, new technology, and those who have the skills to maintain and repair widely used older devices. If we are to avoid becoming a completely “throw away” society, we must have trained mechanical and agricultural personnel to keep us alive.
I don’t know about you, but in my rural, agricultural area, we are blessed to have productive farmers, skilled electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics, and service providers who own and operate small businesses. We have the hardware store, the natural foods store, the farmers’ market, the barber and beautician, free range farmers, fire wood suppliers, snow plowers, and a host of chefs with gluten-free menus in local restaurants. In addition, we have excellent dentists, doctors, nurses, computer techs, optometrists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and personal trainers. We also have a liberal arts college nearby, with a host of excellent musicians, artists, authors, actors, librarians, and professors.
I can’t imagine anything other than a balance of community members who have both occupational training and professional degrees. We need them both. The cycle of career education, from 1960 to the present, supports the entire community. It’s unfortunate the specialized educational programs increase and decline in response to job availability.
Suffice it to say, that each individual, in one’s own path, must match interests and abilities to career opportunities. It is a never-ending struggle. We need both paths, and more. Personally, mine has shifted several times, but hasn’t touched technical fields. Maybe that’s why I appreciate those folks so much. I couldn’t get along without them. Neither can you.
Two final thoughts: my neighbor, who in retirement has an engine and machine shop at his home, once apologized for the cost of replacing the engine in my roto-tiller with a new one with an electric start feature. I told him he need not apologize. Like my wife and me, he was simply charging a fee for his knowledge. The difference was that he also had to do the work. As teachers and professors, we charge for what we know, but our students do the work.
Lastly, in 1969, when teaching English and public speaking (as a liberal art; presentation skills as a practical art), I came across a publication by the Kaiser Aluminum Company. To paraphrase, the author stated we should always begin with the word “and” and end with the word “and.” This would remind us that something came before our awareness, and something will come after. We live in a world of “etcetera.” So goes the cycle of career education.

Literacy Levels Need Attention by Emergency Managers

Have you ever assessed the readability level of the emergency messages you send to you public?  From my early research findings, emergency managers are writing, tweeting and so forth at levels many in the public cannot read.  The best examples I’ve found for readability have been from the National Weather Service (grade 4-5 reading level).  EM websites and early warnings have been observed at reading level 15 (Junior in college).

What can we do about this gap?  There are solutions.

1.  Translations into foreign languages are also at very high reading levels. Many who Whk a foreign language may not be able to read it.  Check the readability of the translated messages.

2.  In New York City, the schools will be teaching emergency preparedness to high school students in English. Many of those students are bilingual, coming from homes with parents and others who have limited English ability. The students will become the translators.  This is an excellent way to reach non-English speaking citizens.

3.  Consider offering training to emergency managers on literacy, numeracy, and computer-based problem-solving.  How many of our “critical” messages contain maps, numbers, and require computer skills to access and comprehend.

What other suggestions do you have to close the literacy gap between emergency management agencies and the vulnerable populations for whom the messages are intended?

Let’s work together on this.

Here is my research agenda.

Dr. Tom’s current research asks, “Are the adult cognitive skills in the domains of literacy, numeracy, and computer-based problem-solving of emergency managers compatible with those of their audiences”?

  1. Are emergency managers aware of the range of cognitive skills of adults in their communities in the domains of literacy, numeracy, and computer-based problem solving skills?
  2. Is the awareness applied to developing emergency messages to adults in the community at appropriate levels of literacy, numeracy, and computer-based problem solving skills?
  3. If a gap exists between emergency managers and their intended audiences, could it be reduced by providing targeted training in literacy, numeracy, and computer-based problem solving skills for emergency managers?

H1: Awareness of literacy skill level differences and training of emergency managers to address the differences will improve the effectiveness of disaster messages to the public at all levels of literacy.

The Tip of the Week: Private Sector Beware!

The Tip of the Week: Private Sector Beware!
By Dr. Tom Phelan
Thursday, October 30, 2013, 8:07 a.m. EDT – This morning I received an e-mail from titled FEMA Private Sector Resilience Tip of the Week. I usually scan these, but today, attempted to follow the enticing title through the thread provided in the e-mail.
FEMA Private Sector Resilience Tip 10/28/13: Prevent cyber threats from impacting your business systems network.
I clicked on the link which led me to The first four paragraphs narrowed the “Tip” to a discussion of cyber threats to only a certain few forms of critical infrastructure – “…the broadband networks beneath us and the wireless signals around us, the utility plants that pump water into our homes, and the massive grids that power our Nation.” My home has a well, so no need for a plant to pump in the water, but electric power is required for it to provide water. It still seems a bit confusing how cyber threats might impact bridges, tunnels, and road ways, but I continued in my journey down the “Rabbit Hole.” Low and behold, the concluding paragraph stated,
Emerging cyber threats require engagement from our entire society—from government and law enforcement to the private sector and, most importantly, members of the public. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility.
The path continued through a link in this sentence, “To help address this challenge, President Obama issued Executive Order 13636, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, and Presidential Policy Directive 21, Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience.”
I continued my pursuit of the “Tip.” The link led to “Strengthening the Security and Resilience of the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure,” at . In the first sentence on this page, I was offered two new links, Executive Order (EO) 13,636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity,” and Presidential Policy Directive (PPD)-21, “Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience.” Not to be caught half way down the Rabbit Hole, I clicked on the link to Executive Order (EO) 13, 636, and found myself on This is a seven page document. I also clicked on Presidential Policy Directive (PPD)-21, “Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience. Here I found still another description of critical infrastructure.
The Nation’s critical infrastructure is diverse and complex. It includes distributed networks, varied organizational structures and operating models (including multinational ownership), interdependent functions and systems in both the physical space and cyberspace, and governance constructs that involve multi-level authorities, responsibilities, and regulations. Critical infrastructure owners and operators are uniquely positioned to manage risks to their individual operations and assets, and to determine effective strategies to make them more secure and resilient.
It was here I chose to stop searching for the “Tip.” If you would like to go further, the following links were provided:
For more information about the EO on Cybersecurity and PPD-21 on Critical Infrastructure, please visit:
• Summary Report: Executive Order 13636 Cybersecurity Incentives Study
• Analytic Report: Executive Order 13636 Cybersecurity Incentives Study
• Blog: Working Together to Strengthen the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure, by Bruce McConnell, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity
• Fact Sheet: Executive Order (EO) 13636 Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity and Presidential Policy Directive (PPD)-21 Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience
• Fact Sheet: Integrated Task Force
• Press Release: DHS Highlights Efforts to Strengthen Cybersecurity for the Nations Critical Infrastructure
• Enhanced Cybersecurity Services
• DHS’s efforts in cybersecurity
• DHS’s efforts in critical infrastructure security
To gain the “private sector tip of the week,” be sure to start early so you’ll be ready for next week’s “Resilience Tip of the Week.”