Keeping the Kids Entertained… and Educated

December 27, 2012

This week as holiday breaks from school and winter weather keep the kids indoors, parents are looking for ways to keep them entertained–and educated– at the same time.

Fortunately, many Federal agencies this year provide the perfect solution with publications that are both fun AND educational, and with which the kids might actually learn something besides how to shoot down some “Angry Birds” on their new tablet! ;-) From dinosaurs to fossils, freedom runners to astronauts, these fun facts will prove more fascinating than fiction.

Here are a few that I (and my eight and six year-old nephews) particularly enjoy:

     Junior-Paleontologist Junior Paleontologist Activity Book, Ages 5-12, Explore, Learn, ProtectFor the kid who thinks dinosaurs are dynamite

In this illustrated color booklet, a child can learn about ancient life, complete fun activities, and explore some of the 230 national parks that preserve fossils and offer a look into the distant past.

And after completing the age-appropriate activities in this book, your child can then go online to request his or her free Junior Paleontologist badge from the National Park Service.

 Junior-Explorer-Geology-Fossils Junior Explorer Geology and Fossils Activity Book
For the kid who wants to be a “rock star”>/p>Fossils are the “rock stars” in this activity book as well. Includes fun facts, a crossword puzzle, and activities about rocks and fossils for explorers ages 8 to 12, along with a free Junior Explorer Certificate from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Introduces basic kid-friendly concepts about geology, types of rocks and formations, and a glossary of terms. Focuses on Earth features– rock formations, canyons, caves, craters and more– that formed over long periods of time and that cannot be replaced as humans remove and make use of them, and the role of geologists to manage these non-renewable natural resources.

It also lists great public lands managed by the BLM that tourists can visit and explore these fossil-rich landscapes.

 Underground-Railroad-Activity-Book Discovering the Underground Railroad: Junior Ranger Activity BookFor the child who wants to change the world

Provides activities for children ages 5-12 to learn about the history of the underground railroad and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Children who finish the age-appropriate activities can send in to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program to receive a free Junior Ranger badge from the National Park Service.

Gently covers topics including: the meaning of freedom and slavery; the hardships and daily life of slaves; the importance and travel routes of the “Underground Railroad;” safe refuge choices; key dates and laws relating to slavery and emancipation; and key figures including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and abolitionists Levi and Catharine Coffin, among others.

Celebrating 30 Years of the Space Shuttle programFor the kid or teen with stars in his or her eyes

For older kids, teens and adults with stars in their eyes (and dreams of space), this could be the book for them.

A tribute to everything accomplished during NASA’s Space Shuttle program’s 30 years of operation, this colorful book is chock-full of stunning color photography and interesting facts of every shuttle mission and its crews, from deploying the Hubble Telescope to the inspirational Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

From its first mission on April 12, 1981, to its last, on July 21, 2011, the Space Shuttle program defined NASA and served as an inspiration to future engineers and astronauts worldwide.

Beginning with the orbiter Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Space Shuttle has carried people into orbit; launched, recovered, and repaired satellites; conducted cutting-edge research; and helped build the largest human made structure in space, the International Space Station.

All of these books can also be found at the following locations:

  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a federal depository library.

Hopefully, these books will help our readers beat the winter blahs as families have to stay indoors due to the weather.

After all, as this famous (albeit anonymous) quote says: “Education is the best gift you could ever receive, because once you have it, no one can ever take it from you.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore ( and promoting Federal government content to the public.

Tracking “Big Red”: NORAD’s Secret Santa Mission [UPDATED]

December 17, 2012

[UPDATED FOR December 17, 2012: We're bringing back our readers' all-time favorite post, updated for 2012, along with info on the new eBook version of NORAD's story...]

One of America’s key weapons in defense of its homeland is NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.  With its slogan of “Deter, Detect, Defend” its stated mission is as follows:

The North American Aerospace Defense Command conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in the defense of North America.

Image: Old NORAD Tracks Santa poster. Source:  NORAD

What does “aerospace warning” consist of? It includes “the monitoring of man-made objects in space, and the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles, through mutual support arrangements with other commands.

One of the most unusual but beloved “objects in space” NORAD has had the responsibility for monitoring is none other than Santa Claus.

How did tracking Santa Claus become part of NORAD’s mission? It all began with a typo.

Tinsel typo

‘Twas the night before Christmas, December 24, 1955, when a Sears Roebuck & Co. department store placed an advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper telling children that they could telephone Santa Claus directly.

It featured a big picture of St. Nick, a phone number and these instructions, “Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct…Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night.Ironically, the ad also cautioned, “Kiddies, be sure and dial the correct number!

Image: 1955 Sears ad with NORAD number. Source: NORAD

Unfortunately, the paper misprinted the phone number, listing instead the top secret hotline that was used only in national emergencies to alert CONAD (the Continental Air Defense Command–NORAD’s predecessor) if the Soviets were attacking!

 The “Santa Colonel”

U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, CONAD’s director of operations, grabbed the red emergency phone, thinking an attack was imminent.

According to Shoup’s account, he answered, thinking it was his general, “Sir, are you there?

Image: Col. Harry Shoup, the “Santa Colonel” Source: NORAD

Instead, a little 6 year-old boy’s voice came over the phone asking, “Are you really Santa Claus?” Shoup, thinking it was a prank, barked into the phone asking “Would you repeat that?” and demanding to know who was calling. At this point, the little voice started crying, and asked tentatively, “Is this one of Santa’s elves, then?

Soon the phone began ringing off the hook with kids wanting to talk to Santa, so once they figured out the error, Shoup decided to play along and instructed his team to act as Santa’s helpers. He had his radar operators check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole.

Image: A 1955 red hotline phone.  Source:

Children who called were given updates on the current location of St. Nick and his reindeer-drawn flying sleigh, and a beloved annual Christmas tradition was born.

Shoup became known as the “Santa Colonel,” a moniker he cherished until his death, his daughter says.

Santa Tracker goes high-tech

In 1958 Canada joined the alliance and CONAD became NORAD, which carried on the Santa mission. Originally, Santa tracking updates were delivered via radio broadcasts and of course, calling the Santa Tracking hotline, but with the introduction of the Internet, Santa tracking went online by Christmas 1997.

Guarding What You Value Most: North American Aerospace Defense Command Celebrating 50 Years, the seminal publication documenting NORAD’s illustrious 50-year history, provides easy-to-follow timelines of key NORAD events along with copious color photographs, maps and snippets of history of this important organization.

The publication proudly covers the history of its favorite mission— Santa tracking— stating:

“Today, using the same technology used to perform their day-to-day mission— satellites, high-powered radars and jet fighters— NORAD tracks Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world.”  

Specifically, NORAD’s Santa site says that it uses four different high-tech systems to track Santa–radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets:

Tracking Santa starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System. This powerful radar system consists of 47 installations strung across the northern border of North America. On Christmas Eve, NORAD monitors the radar systems continuously for indications that Santa Claus has left the North Pole.

The moment that radar indicates Santa has lifted off, we use our second detection system. Satellites positioned in geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles from the Earth’s surface are equipped with infrared sensors, which enable them to detect heat. Amazingly, Rudolph’s bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allows our satellites to detect Rudolph and Santa.

The third tracking system is the Santa Cam network. Santa Cams are ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many locations around the world to capture images and video.

The fourth system is made up of fighter jets. First, Canadian NORAD fighter pilots flying the CF-18 intercept and welcome Santa to North America. In the US, American NORAD fighter pilots in either the F-15 or the F-16 provide an escort flying alongside Santa and his famous reindeer.

Santa goes mobile… and Global!  

[UPDATE DECEMBER 2012]:For Christmas 2012 Google is stepping aside to make room for other companies to help track Santa. Said a NORAD spokesperson: “This year, NTS and Google mutually agreed to go in new directions, and we are excited to welcome a number of new contributors, to include Microsoft, Windows Azure, Bing, and iLink-systems, among others, to help us in our mission of tracking Santa.

Thanks to dozens of volunteer local translators, NORAD Tracks Santa website is now offered in 8 languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese.

Listening along with the live computer video clips, many parents use this as an opportunity to give a fun world geography lesson as the family follows Santa’s path around the world. Volunteer military personnel give running commentary and interesting tidbits about the cities as Santa passes through.  For example, did you know that NORAD’s satellites and radar clocked Santa’s sleigh going 100 times faster than the Japanese bullet train?

How many “elves” does it take to track “Big Red”?

Today, children young and old all over the world can call in or email NORAD on Christmas Eve to find out just where Santa is, or, since Santa went digital, follow along on NORAD’s cutting edge web site.

NORAD has over a thousand volunteers every year (in 2008 there were 1,275) from Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel and their families, who record audio and come in to NORAD on Christmas Eve to staff the phones and answer emails to anxious children wanting to know if here comes Santa Claus right down their particular Santa Claus Lane…  Meanwhile engineers ensure the tracking systems are on target and U.S. fighter jets stand ready to escort the “celebrity” that NORAD calls “Big Red” as he passes through U.S. air space.

How can you track Santa on Christmas Eve?

So, on the night before Christmas, when not a creature is stirring, you might want to rouse your mouse– uh, your computer version, of course– and surf over to or call 1-877-HI-NORAD (1.877.446.6723) from North America to find out when Santa Claus is coming to YOUR town. (By the way, Santa’s helpers at NORAD are great at reminding the kids to go to bed because Santa is near and won’t stop if they’re awake!)

Image: How the Air Force and NORAD Tracks Santa Claus video at NORAD location in Cheyenne Mountain. Source: Around the Air Force news special, December 2005.

Starting at 4am Eastern Time on December 24, you can:

While You Wait: While you’re waiting for the tracking to begin, all December (or year-round) you can play some of the many fun games on their  Countdown Village page on their web site, and stop by the NORAD Tracks Santa Facebook page to show your appreciation.

How can I get a copy of Guarding What You Value Most: North American Aerospace Defense Command Celebrating 50 Years, the wonderful hardcover book of 50 years of NORAD history chock full of color photos and anecdotes, including the Santa Tracker story?

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore ( and promoting Federal government content to the public. She has been a faithful NORAD Tracks Santa fan for years!

A Plum Book of Political Positions

December 6, 2012

Plum-Book-2012What is the Plum Book? Known officially as the “United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions,” the Plum Book is published alternately by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs or by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who handled this year’s version. The 2012 edition lists over 8,000 civil service leadership and support positions (filled and vacant) in the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government that may be subject to noncompetitive appointments.

History of the “Plum Book”

The Plum Book was first published in 1952, when the Dwight D. Eisenhower Administration was voted into office after 20 years of Democratic administrations– first under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then under President Harry S. Truman. Truman-Eisenhower-Transition

Image: Out-going President Truman meets with incoming President Eisenhower to discuss the transition. (Is that a draft copy of the first Plum Book that Truman is handing to Eisenhower? ;-)

With a touch of humor, someone at the original publishers decided the book should have a purple or plum-colored cover to reflect that it contained the “plum” political appointee jobs, and the tradition has stuck ever since for the printed version.

What Type of Positions are Listed in the Plum Book?

The United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions 2012 (Plum Book) includes both politically appointed and Career Civil Service positions, agency heads and their immediate subordinates, policy executives and advisers, and the aides who report to these political appointee officials.  These encompass:

  • Executive Schedule and salary-equivalent positions paid at the rates established for Levels I through V of the Executive Schedule.
  • Senior Executive Service “General” positions (i.e., those positions which may be filled by a career, non-career, or limited appointment)
  • Senior Foreign Service positions
  • Schedule C positions excepted from the competitive service by the President, or by the Director, Office of Personnel Management, because of the confidential or policy-determining nature of the position duties
  • Other confidential or policy-determining positions at the GS-14 and above level excepted from the competitive civil service by law because of the confidential or policy-determining nature of the position duties

The duties of such positions may involve advocacy of Administration policies and programs, and the incumbents usually have a close and confidential working relationship with the agency head or other key officials.

To Fill or Not to Fill , that is the Question

Interestingly, the book lists ALL such political appointment positions, whether there is someone currently in the job or it was vacant as of June 30, 2012.  If the job was occupied by a career Federal employee appointee, the phrase “Career Incumbent” is shown without a name; otherwise, the name of the political appointee is listed.

And positions such as boards, committees or commissions that require “member” positions by political party affiliation are listed with the name of the incumbent along with a (D) for Democrat, (R) for Republican or (I) for Independent.

Type of Appointment and Salaries

Listings are labeled with letter codes that denote the type of appointment under which the position is categorized:

Appointment Code What It Stands For
CA Career Appointment
EA Limited Emergency Appointment
NA Non-career Appointment
PA Presidential Appointment without Senate Confirmation
PAS Presidential Appointment with Senate Confirmation
SC Schedule C Excepted Appointment
TA Limited Term Appointment
XS Appointment Excepted by Statute

However, several categories of jobs can be filled by more than one type of appointment, e.g., SES positions listed in this publication may be filled by using career Federal employees or various outside appointments. On these, no ‘‘Type of Appointment’’ is shown for such positions when they are vacant.

Plum-Book-Political-Appointments-GSAImage: List of “noncompetitive” political appointment positions at GSA. Source: 2012 Plum Book. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Finally, information is included on the various base salary scales for each pay plan and level or grade, along with the percent above that base for different locality pay areas. For example, in the New York metropolitan area, one would receive 28.72% above the base pay scale due to the high cost of living there. Surprisingly, the Federal Government rates Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas as the second highest locality in the country at 28.71% above base.


So if you are still hunting for that perfect holiday gift, it might be time to “pick a plum” or two—a 2012 Plum Book, that is—one to give, and one to keep for yourself!

How can I obtain a copy of United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions 2012 (Plum Book)?

  •  Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a federal depository library.

Related Publications:

  • United States Government Manual 2012 is being published in December 2012. It provides comprehensive information– including a list of principal officials—for all agencies of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches, as well as quasi-official agencies, international organizations in which the United States participates, boards, commissions, and committees.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore ( and promoting Federal government content to the public.


First Blood: Year One of the War Between the States

November 22, 2012

On another Thanksgiving Day 150 years ago, America was embroiled in a bitter Civil War. A year later, expressing gratitude for the key Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln would proclaim that the nation will celebrate an official annual Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. But in 1862, 25 states and three territories were already celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thus it is fitting that we have this wonderful guest post about the newest book from the Army’s Center of Military History series about the U.S. Army Campaigns of the Civil War. Those who had survived these clashes had much to give thanks for that Thanksgiving Day- as do we all, particularly members of our military and diplomatic services and their families who have served in harm’s way. Enjoy the post and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,  Michele Bartram

Guest blogger Sonya Kunkle was a writer and editor for more than 15 years before she joined GPO’s Proof & Copy Markup section. Here she reviews a U.S. Government Bookstore booklet on a topic that caught her interest fairly recently—the American Civil War.

As a child growing up in the Washington, DC, suburbs, I once walked through the grassy fields of Antietam Battlefield (near Sharpsburg, MD) oblivious to the historical struggle waged under my feet. American history wasn’t my favorite subject in school, but as an adult my interest in the Civil War was sparked when I read “The Killer Angels,” a novel by Michael Shaara. “The Killer Angels,” a work of historical fiction, details the Battle of Gettysburg.

This is a good time to be a Civil War history enthusiast, with 2012 being part of the sesquicentennial (150-year anniversary) of America’s bloodiest war. To mark the occasion, the U.S. Government Bookstore has for sale a 64-page booklet, The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 published by the U.S. Army’s Center for Military History.

Image: (Cover of the booklet,. Detail from Capture of Ricketts’ Battery by Sidney E. King, courtesy of William V. Fleitz, Manassas Battlefield Park.

 In this booklet you can read about the reasons for going to war and why key players made many of the decisions they did during the first year of the conflict. The author, Dr. Jennifer M. Murray, also provides a lot of information in text and graphics on the troop movements of both the Federals and the Confederates during each of the key battles of 1861.

Strategic Setting

In his inaugural address, on March 4, President Lincoln declared that he didn’t intend to abolish slavery in states where it existed. Stating that he would not initiate a war, Lincoln informed Southerners, “In your hands … is the momentous issue of civil war …You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.

If you look at the numbers, perhaps the Confederates were doomed from the start. The 1860 Census shows that the Union could call on 4 million military-age white males to build their army, whereas the Confederacy could assemble 1 million at most.

The Union also had 10 times the industrial capacity, not to mention better transportation capabilities. In spite of these disadvantages, the South started the Civil War with its first big move—firing on Federal Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

Operations—Fort Sumter

Charleston, South Carolina, was well fortified with Fort Sumter and other defenses. Sumter was built to guard against an enemy fleet, and the walls facing the city were much weaker than those facing the water, leaving the fort vulnerable to attack on land.

On April 11, the Southern Brigadier General Pierre G. T. Beauregard demanded that the Union forces evacuate Fort Sumter. The North’s ranking officer at Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, declined.

At 3 a.m. (or 0300; the author uses military time) on April 12, the Confederates notified Major Anderson that General Beauregard and company would open fire on Fort Sumter in one hour. Twenty minutes after the deadline, a single shell from nearby Fort Johnson, which the North had abandoned, exploded over Sumter. War had begun.

Into Virginia—Bull Run

Image: First Battle of Bull Run. 1889 chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison. Source: Library of Congress. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

In May the Confederates moved their capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia. Richmond became a strategic target for the North, both for its industrial capability and its political importance. The two capitals, separated by only 100 miles, now figured prominently in both sides’ strategies.

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 explains why the Union was determined to control Manassas Junction and why in May 10,600 Confederates defended the northern entrance to the Shenandoah Valley.

The author notes an interesting moment caused by the differing (and lack of) uniforms:

Viewing the Virginians, who were wearing civilian clothes, the Federal troops were unsure of their allegiance. To complicate matters further … Federal units were not uniformly dressed in blue; soldiers in the 11th New York, for instance, were dressed in colorful Zouave uniforms, which were also worn by some Confederate units. The Virginians clarified the matter by opening a deadly volley on the New Yorkers.”

Image: Brandy Station, VA, Band of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry (Zouaves). Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-B8171-7611 DLC. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

The Confederates won the fight, protecting their capital. The first battle of the Civil War resulted in the death of nearly 5,000 men.

The Fight for Missouri

While emotions roiled to the east, the majority of delegates attending a special Missouri secession convention voted to remain in the Union. This decision ran counter to Governor Claiborne F. Jackson’s personal preferences, and he mustered forces in favor of the Confederates.

This part of The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 provides details about how the Civil War reached into Missouri, with one of the key players being Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon.

While directing his men on the front line, Lyon got hit in the calf by a bullet, so he left the field for medical treatment. When Lyon got back on the field, a bullet grazed his head.

Determined to continue the fight, and apparently not taking the hint, Lyon returned to the field. Moments later, a bullet hit him in the chest. He was the first Union general officer to die in the Civil War.

From Belmont to Port Royal

In The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 you can read about the Union Navy’s entry into the Civil War.

It’s an interesting read, with a little information about Southern pirates (pirates!) lurking inside the Outer Banks of North Carolina, pouncing on merchant vessels before Union warships could react. To thwart these outlaws, the Federal Navy designated the Outer Banks as its first target. Union forces prepared for the war’s first joint Army-Navy operation.

You learn something about the battle for Fort Hatteras and the naval tactic (and the Confederates’ faulty ammunition) that helped the Union win the day.

The North’s capture of Fort Hatteras and nearby Fort Clark improved the Union’s outlook soon after their defeat at Bull Run. Offering a “Congratulatory Order,” one Federal officer commented, “This gallant affair will not fail to stimulate the regulars and volunteers to greater exertions to prepare themselves for future and greater achievements.

The Union’s euphoria didn’t last long.

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 describes what happened between the North and South about 35 miles north of Washington at Ball’s Bluff. Perhaps the statistics are most noteworthy—there were an evenly matched number of men fighting on both sides, but the outcome was lopsided in terms of soldiers wounded and captured. The battle’s uneven results favored the South.

This section also addresses the Union’s win at Port Royal, South Carolina. Here you also can read about what Brigadier General (and future U.S. President) Ulysses S. Grant did in the area of Belmont, MO, that earned him President Lincoln’s favor.

The chronological coverage of the war ends with Union Major General George B. McClellan’s training the Army of the Potomac outside of Manassas. McClellan said he believed that he controlled the “destinies of this great country.”  There was no further action along the Potomac as the curtain closed on 1861.


Dr. Murray offers incisive analysis at the end of The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861. She describes the early missteps of the secessionists, as well as what the South got right. She also notes the Union army’s mixed results.

Dr. Murray concludes, “As Federal forces grew more experienced and competent, they would gain key victories in 1862 that helped to shape the outcome of the Civil War.”

The last page of the booklet provides a short list of texts for further reading about the first year of the war.


The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 helps me to appreciate the history in my own backyard. Although I find all of the information about the armies’ positions and movements a bit overwhelming, the booklet tempts me to take the 70-mile trip from Baltimore, where I live now, to explore the fields of Bull Run at Manassas. Taking the booklet with me, I’ll have a better understanding of the history I’m walking through.

HOW DO I OBTAIN The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a federal depository library.

Other Federal Titles about the Civil War

You may also be interested in these titles about the Civil War available from the U.S. Government Bookstore:

America Loves Quitters: Preventing Teen Tobacco Use

November 15, 2012

In an election month, young people across America learned a lot about making choices, and today they get the chance to make the choice to not use tobacco.

Today, November 15, 2012, marks the 37th Great American Smokeout, a day promoted by the American Cancer Society every third Thursday of November to encourage smokers to make a plan to quit smoking, or finally quit smoking altogether on that day. Research shows that quitting — even for one day — smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life – one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

Image: Campaign banner for the Great American Smokeout 2012 by the American Cancer Society. 

Thus it was fortuitous that a copy of the three-volume set entitled “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General came across my desk this week.  Published by the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, this combines all the latest research and best thinking about how to combat tobacco use in children and teens. The three volumes in the set include:

1)      The full report from the Surgeon General with the detailed research: “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General”

2)      An “Executive Summary” of the report with the key evidence and conclusions

3)      A booklet of “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: We Can Make the Next Generation Tobacco Free”.

This easy-to-read booklet aimed to parents, schools and community public health practitioners contains highlights from the 2012 Surgeon General’s report on tobacco use among youth and teens ages 12 through 17 and young adults ages 18 through 25. The first four pages are an overview of youth and young adult tobacco use, and the sections that follow provide details on health effects, factors that encourage young people to use tobacco, the role of the tobacco industry, and what we can do to solve the problem.

Here’s the Report. General

Reading through the full Surgeon General Report, I found it contains the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1. Introduction, Summary, and Conclusions

 This chapter gives an overview and summary of the report’s findings and conclusions. One startling fact: the high percentage of cigarette smokers starting even in middle school!

  • Chapter 2. The Health Consequences of Tobacco Use Among Young People

Starting tobacco use young—cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco—has significant and sometimes unique health consequences outlined in this chapter.

  • Chapter 3. The Epidemiology of Tobacco Use Among Young People in the United States and Worldwide

In this chapter, the various surveys and methods used for gathering data for this landmark report were discussed.

  • Chapter 3 Appendices

Terrific for researchers, reporters and health professionals, the appendices provide the detailed data and tables that are such an important part of the study. For example one table showed the results of responses to use of multiple types of tobacco products expanding beyond just  cigarettes to increasing use of chewing tobacco, snuff, cigars, cigarillos or little cigars.

  • Chapter 4. Social, Environmental, Cognitive, and Genetic Influences on the Use of Tobacco Among Youth

In this chapter, the researchers explore the factors that influence tobacco use among youth—and why they have such devastating long-term effects.

  • Chapter 5. The Tobacco Industry’s Influences on the Use of Tobacco Among Youth

Twelve years after the Federal Government’s Master Settlement Agreement against the tobacco industry, it is exerting as much influence as ever, with sophisticated marketing efforts aimed at increasing tobacco use. This chapter also outlines the ineffectiveness of the anti-tobacco programs the tobacco industry was required to do as part of the Agreement.

  • Chapter 6. Efforts to Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use Among Young People

This important chapter reviews the efforts to date to prevent tobacco use and what’s working and not.

Here is an example of the CDC’s current anti-tobacco campaign:

Smoking harms health from the very first puff. Learn more.

  • Chapter 7. A Vision for Ending the Tobacco Epidemic

Finally, it concludes with a vision from the research team on how communities, schools, parents and the public health programs can help end tobacco use.

Teen Tobacco Facts

 Some of the more startling—and disturbing—findings and conclusions:

  • In 2008, tobacco companies spent 48% more on cigarette marketing (totaling $9.94 billion) and 277% more on smokeless tobacco advertising (totaling $547 million) than in 1998, the year of the Federal Government’s Master Settlement Agreement against the tobacco industry.
  • For every person who dies due to smoking—more than 1,200 each day—at least two youth or young adults become regular smokers.
  • Among adults who become daily smokers, nearly all first use of cigarettes occurs by 18 years of age (88%), with 99% of first use by 26 years of age.
  • Almost one in four high school seniors is a current (in the past 30 days) cigarette smoker, compared with one in three young adults and one in five adults.
  • Among those who use tobacco, nearly one-third of high school females and more than one-half of high school males report using more than one tobacco product in the last 30 days.
  • Key influences include peer pressure, genetic predisposition toward addiction; family socioeconomic factors and educational attainment; sophisticated package and advertising design aimed toward kids, and depictions in popular media, particularly movies.
  • Smoking won’t help you lose weight, contrary to young people’s beliefs.
  • Adolescent smoking contributes to earlier onset of health problems, from asthma to cancer to heart and lung disease.

Additional Information

CDC: Finally, for more information and additional resources on preventing tobacco use among young people, go to If you smoke and want to quit smoking, cal l 1-800-QUIT NOW (784-8669).

American Cancer Society: Stay Away from Tobacco resources.

HOW DO I OBTAIN “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General?

  • Buy a print copy online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.

Find this and other books about Alcoholism, Smoking & Substance Abuse on our new online bookstore.

Another recommended book is How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease, A Report of the Surgeon General, which “explains beyond a shadow of a doubt how tobacco smoke causes disease, validates earlier findings, and expands and strengthens the science base. Describes in detail the ways tobacco smoke damages every organ in the body and causes disease and death. Substantiates the evidence that there is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore ( and promoting Federal government content to the public.

Go-to Guide on Hazardous Materials for First Responders

November 2, 2012

After my electrical power was restored late last night in northern Virginia following Hurricane or Superstorm #Sandy, I was caught up with images of the devastation that has affected millions from the Caribbean up the East Coast and even to the Midwest of the United States. Even the first floor of my house where I used to live in New Jersey on the Hudson River across from Manhattan was flooded. (Our best wishes go out to everyone affected by the storm!)

As in so many emergencies, the heroes of Superstorm #Sandy are definitely the first responders from firemen, police, National Guard, and emergency medical personnel  who rushed to deal with emergency situations even while the storm was at its height. These first responders have to rush into extremely hazardous conditions, often with live power lines, broken gas lines, or work around sewage, spilled chemicals, or other pollutants, such as is happening in Hoboken, all while trying to save lives.

IMAGE: Hazmat personnel (at back in yellow) test contaminated water around half-submerged cars float in a flooded parking lot in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City. (Credit: Justin Lane/EPA)

Published by the experts at Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in conjunction with Transport Canada, the Emergency Response Guidebook 2012 is the newly updated guide for use by transporters, firefighters, police, and other emergency services personnel who may be the first to arrive at the scene of a transportation incident involving a hazardous material or “Hazmat” as it is usually referred to in the United States.

The Emergency Response Guidebook 2012, or ERG as it is known popularly to those who use it, provides first responders with a go-to manual to help deal with hazmat accidents during the critical first 30 minutes. PHMSA’s goal is to place one of these ERGs into every emergency service vehicle nationwide.

While the subtitle is: “A Guidebook for First Responders During the Initial Phase of a Dangerous Goods/Hazardous Materials Transportation Incident,“  it can be used during any emergency incident where hazardous materials are present.

The Guidebook is organized to provide first responders individual pages or guides on how to deal with each kind of hazardous material. It recommends a three-step process:

  •  STEP ONE: Identify the HAZARDOUS MATERIAL by finding either the Name of the Material or the Identification Number (4-DIGIT ID after UN/NA) of the material from a placard or orange panel on the container or from the shipping paper or package.
  • STEP TWO: Identify the 3-digit GUIDE NUMBER in this guidebook that corresponds to the material name or number.
  • STEP THREE: Follow the GUIDE INSTRUCTIONS carefully on the corresponding orange-bordered numbered guide page.

IMAGE: Fully-suited hazardous materials first responders at a chemical spill drill.  The 4-digit Hazardous Material Identification Number 2880 is clearly shown on a placard on the tanker. Credit Guy McCarthy

How to use the ERG 2012

Here is the cross-reference to the Guide number to follow for the above hazardous material # 2880, which we find is Calcium hypochlorite, corresponding to Guide number 140 in the ERG.

IMAGE: Cross-reference for hazardous material ID number to the ERG Guide number.

Looking up Guide number 140, we find that water is to be used to deal with this particular material, not dry chemicals or foams such as from fire extinguishers. Each Guide page also discusses how to handle small or large fires of this material, fires involving whole tanks for trailer loads, spills or leaks of this material, and first aid for anyone injured by this substance.

The ERG 2012 also provides guidance for responding when the hazardous material is unknown, with a Table of Placards and Emergency Response Guide to Use On-Scene.

Whom do the first responders call?

Since first responders can’t have the answers to every time of hazardous material incident, the guide provides a list of toll-free, 24-hour emergency response hotlines to call for the United States and U.S. Virgin Islands, and numbers to call for incidents involving military shipments with explosives, ammunition or other dangerous goods, as well as CBRN (Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Nuclear) incidents and terrorist or criminal incidents involving IEDs (improvised explosive devices), pipe bombs, car bombs, suicide vests and more . It also includes numbers for all provinces in  Canada, including bilingual French-English phone numbers, and hotline numbers for Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.

And finally, a terrific glossary of terms helps decipher some of the jargon.

Firemen, bomb squads, CBRN teams, police, emergency medical personnel, military police and other first responders  have a hard enough job to do without risking their lives dealing with broken pipelines, overturned tankers, bombs, spills, and other hazardous materials. Fortunately the Department of Transportation provides this excellent tool to help keep them—and us—safer. That’s something we can all respond to.

HOW DO I OBTAIN Emergency Response Guidebook 2012”?

  • Buy a print copy online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore. NOTE: Save 60% off the original price of $28. Now only $10.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.

Find this and other books for Emergency Management and First Responders under the Security, Defense & Law Enforcement category on our new online bookstore.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore ( and promoting Federal government content to the public.

Owlie Skywarn helps us all prepare for bad weather

October 26, 2012

With the threat of an unusual “Frankenstorm” pre-Halloween hurricane possibly combined with a blizzard about to hit the East Coast in the next few days, I found myself with a dozen others at the store last night buying batteries, flashlights and bottled water. Next to me was a mother with two small children, one of whom asked loudly, “Mommy, why is everybody buying batteries and water?” I chuckled to myself as I looked at the frazzled adults and wondered how she’d explain what the fuss was about. With the rise in severe weather events in the United States and the related rise in media coverage about these creating anxiety in both young and old, parents and teachers have a lot of “‘splaining” to do to children.

NOAA Owlie Skywarn's Weather BookFortunately, NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in conjunction with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Association) and the American Red Cross, have prepared a terrific new booklet, Owlie Skywarn’s Weather Book, to explain different types of severe weather and how to prepare for each.

Although formatted to appeal to children, with “Owlie Skywarn” the cartoon weather owl introducing topics on most pages, this booklet is valuable for all ages.

The book covers the gamut of severe weather, from hurricanes and tornadoes to lightning, floods and winter storms.

For each type of weather, Owlie explains what it is, what kind of alerts or warnings may be issued and by whom, how to prepare in advance (if possible), and how to react while it is happening. For example, a great page illustrates a car safety kit every driver should have if he or she lives in places that get deep snow. Still other pages tell you where to go and how to protect yourself when a tornado warning is issued by NOAA’s National Weather Service, or over the Emergency Alert System, whether at home, school, office, store, outdoors or in a car.

Sprinkled throughout are anecdotes from real people and towns that make the advice come alive. One is the story of a retired National Park Ranger who has been struck by lightning seven times and lived to tell the tale (albeit now with lightning rods all over his home). Yikes! Fascinating (and intimidating) weather facts are included like the fact that the most snow in one month in the United States actually fell in Tamarack, California, in 1911: a whopping 32.5 feet or 390 inches (or 10 meters for our non-US readers)!

At the end of the book are quizzes and activities that can be used by a family at home or teachers in school with children to help ensure the lessons get through that severe weather is not to be played with.

My recommendation to parents, teachers, well, really everyone is get a copy of Owlie Skywarn’s Weather Book, read it, prepare, and keep it with your other extreme weather supplies. These are lessons worth repeating often. I’ve got my copy with my spare batteries and my NOAA weather emergency radio.

P.S. And to that mother in the flashlight and batteries aisle preparing for Hurricane Sandy: You will be happy to know that the answer to your daughter’s question about why everyone is buying batteries and water can be found on page 6.

HOW DO I OBTAIN Owlie Skywarn’s Weather Book”?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.

Find this and other books about Weather and Climate on our new online bookstore.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore ( and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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