Tuesday, May 26, 2020

To Pluto and Beyond: Work that reaches the stars

Jon Bradley (left), Bob Gomez (center) and Courtney Swassing are all Idaho natives who are proud to be part of Idaho National Laboratory’s work to assemble and test the power system for the upcoming Mars 2020 mission, which will launch this summer.
By Jeff Pinkham
For INL Communications and Outreach

They’ve stayed in the same spot for more than a decade, but their work has traveled to Pluto and beyond, and landed on the surface of Mars.

Bob Gomez, Courtney Swassing and Jon Bradley have spent most of their Idaho National Laboratory (INL) careers in the Space and Security Power Systems group, which assembles and tests Radioisotope Power Systems such as Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (MMRTG) and other Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) for use in remote and harsh environments, principally space.

Gomez and Bradley have been part of the program since the beginning, when it was moved from Mound Laboratories in Ohio to INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC) in the early 2000s. Swassing joined the team in 2007.

They each came on board at different times and had different motivations for joining the group, but all said there’s nothing they’d rather do.

“There’s pressure because you know it has to power a $2 billion space mission,” Gomez said. “But it’s so cool to be part of this.”

Bradley grew up in Shelley and knew the lab was a good place to work when he started as a temporary employee in the mailroom.

“It was a job,” Bradley said. “It was a foot in the door.”

The longer he stayed, the more he realized there were opportunities behind other doors at MFC. He spent 12 years in materials handling before he took a job as an operator with the Space and Security Power Systems group in 2004. He was an operator and then technical lead until 2016, when he became shift supervisor – his current role.

Gomez grew up in the Boise area and was serving what would become a nine-year stint in the U.S. Navy when he heard about the historic safety tests performed at Idaho’s Experimental Breeder Reactor-II in 1985.

“I thought, ‘this is a place I want to work,’” Gomez said.

He joined what is now INL in 1994 as a hot cell operator at the Fuel Conditioning Facility. He began working on space power systems in 2004, and outside of a short time as a shift supervisor at other facilities, he’s been with the group since. He has served in a variety of roles, from foreman to shift supervisor to now nuclear facilities manager.

Bradley and Gomez were part of the team that assembled and tested the first space power system at INL, for use on the 2006 Pluto New Horizons mission. It was an exciting, and stressful time. In roughly two and half years, a small group led by Director Steve Johnson had to build a facility, put together a staff, and then assemble and test an RTG. The facility was finished in September 2004, and the power system was shipped to Florida around Halloween in 2005.

It was an amazingly tight deadline, but New Horizons launched on schedule in January 2006.
“There was significant overtime and a lot of nervousness,” Gomez said. “We were doing this for the first time so we were kind of self-taught.”

Swassing is the “new” guy of the trio. The Pocatello native started working on space power systems in 2007 as an operator before becoming a technical lead. He will soon qualify as a shift supervisor.

He missed the first power system build, but has been closely involved in assembly and testing of the MMRTG for the Mars Curiosity rover in 2012 and the current Mars 2020 mission, another rover that will explore the Red Planet.

Because there is a long gap between missions, the team spends a lot of time training. They study the procedures to ensure they are optimal, and practice the various steps of assembly and testing so their actions become second nature.

“The training process can wear on you,” Bradley said. “We can get on each other’s nerves and it can get tedious. But Operations, Engineering and Quality Assurance are all training together. It’s not someone telling us what to do. That’s the cool part.”

But there’s a big difference between practice and the real thing.

Swassing said when he first joined the team, he was told that working with hot fuel is a unique challenge that can’t be replicated in training. The internal temperature of the MMRTG fuel reaches 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, and it takes special equipment and an attention to detail to work with safely.

“I was thinking, ‘It can’t be that hot,’” Swassing said. “Then when I first worked with it, I was like, ‘This is HOT. Now I know why they told me that.’”

Once that hurdle is overcome, much of the work done by Bradley, Gomez, Swassing and the other members of the team has remained the same. The power system is a fairly simple device that needs no moving parts to turn heat from the decay of Plutonium-238 into electricity using thermocouples.

The process is well-defined and the task at hand is well-understood by all. That doesn’t mean problems don’t arise from time to time.

“They’re all built to the same specs, but each has presented its own set of issues and obstacles,” Gomez said. “It certainly isn’t easy or boring.”

How could it be? The result of their hard work is exploring the surface of Mars and traveling to Pluto and beyond – places never visited by man-made objects. Work on the latest MMRTG is nearing completion with an expected launch in late July or early August. There are still long days and plenty of stress before it reaches Mars. But to these guys, it’s all worth it.

“It’s so rewarding to know you’re one of a handful of people who had their hands on something that goes to space,” Bradley said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

An Escape From Reality | Larry & Debbie Fisher, Black Swan Inn, Destinations Inn

Larry and Debbie Fisher
The Black Swan Inn in Pocatello and Destinations Inn in Idaho Falls are themed hotels created primarily for couples. With a career established already as a custom home builder, their owner, Larry Fisher, never thought he'd be in involved in the field, but fate decreed otherwise.

“I've always enjoyed building things,” he said. As owner of Fisher Construction, he was very involved in all aspects of the building and creating his customer's dream home.

“Having a hotel or having theme rooms wasn't in my future, that I knew of anyway,” he said. It was his sister who piqued his interest in creating theme rooms after she convinced him to visit a hotel in Logan, Utah.



“Building custom homes you get into custom woodworking, but you could never get into really detailed extravagant things. I thought if we built one of these (hotels) we could do all these unique things and try things out. I thought it sounded fun and exciting,” he said.

This inspired him to start looking around to see where he could put his dream into action. The current building where the Black Swan Inn is caught his eye. “One of my sayings is, you find what you are looking for,” he said. He had to convince the owners to sell the building. After some negotiation, he was able to buy the building and started planning.

Having never owned a hotel before, he reached out to the owners of the theme hotel in Logan to see if they would be interested in a partnership. Initially, they turned Fisher down, but after a week they reached out and decided they'd like to be a part of it. They were partners for five years before the Fisher and his wife, Debbie, bought them out in 2001. Fisher feels like that was the key to success for them to start out strong.

They built the rooms in phases with the Cave Room being the first. Fisher credits Debbie and their partners with the creative ideas, explaining that he is more the “hands-on” person. “In the Mayan Rain Forest there is a treehouse and the jetted tub is in the treehouse,” he said. “Nowadays it's easy to find ideas, you can look on the Internet. Back then, we had to go to the library.”

Visiting Las Vegas and soaking up the creativity there also helped them envision and craft ideas. They have also had individuals enter their lives at different times who have brought skills that have helped them create their visions.

Not wanting to turn the hotel over to someone to manage it, Fisher decided he needed to back off from his construction company and manage the inn full-time. They worked with the city of Pocatello and they were able to open each room as it was completed. Fisher said it was immediately successful. “I love interacting with people, I'd love to just work at the front desk. I've made some great relationships with people,” he said.

Destinations Inn was purchased in 2010 as an existing themed room hotel and was the perfect compliment to The Black Swan Inn and the Fishers' vision.

Over the years Fisher has received many ‘thank you's'. “There is something psychological about it, when you go into these themed rooms you feel like you are 1,000 miles away,” he said. “The way I look at it, a night at The Black Swan Inn costs about as much as a therapy session and it's a lot more fun.”

Fisher recognizes that it takes the couples to do the work on their relationships but the hotels provide a space for connection to happen and he's happy to be a part of that.

The hotel has employed all of the Fishers' six children over the years, and two of them continue to work in the business, with ideas of taking it over in the future. “I'm trying to free up some time so I can travel more and bring back ideas,” Fisher said. He remains very involved in day-to-day operations, especially where it comes to the construction aspects.

Fisher is also very involved in the community. He feels that social networking is very important to the business and being active in the community helps your business. “It's an honor and a pleasure to be a part of these different things,” he said. Having just had a close friend pass away he advises, “Don't take your relationships for granted. Love what you do and love the people around you. Don't take advantage of people. Spend the time with the people you love.”

Information

For more information on The Black Swan Inn visit their site at https://www.blackswaninn.com/. For more information on Destinations Inn visit their site at https://www.destinationsinn.com/.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Diabla's Kitchen plans move to old Westbank property

Renovation work inside the old Westbank Restaurant.
Diabla's Kitchen, an A Street mainstay for several years, is moving into much roomier digs, as owner Deana Bowles Brower and company are renovating the old Westbank Restaurant property on River Parkway. In a recent Facebook post, Brower said they are eyeing an opening in June, possibly Father's Day weekend. In the meantime, they are carrying on with takeout food from their location at 368 A Street. A seafood fest is also planned for Saturday and Sunday, although seating will be very limited due to community coronavirus concerns. Details can be found here.

As for the new location, this is a welcome development for a property that has been vacant since August 2014. That was when owner Dane Watkins closed it in a dispute with Om Shiv Ganesh, the financially troubled company that was running the nearby tower. Watkins had been leasing the restaurant and convention center to Om Shiv Ganesh, but when the hotel's owner, Idaho Hotel Holdings, filed a default judgment for more than $3.4 million and the tower went into receivership he decided he would shut the restaurant down and look for a new buyer or operator.

The tower was sold at auction in January 2015 for a reported $2.3 million. Various attempts have been made to reopen the restaurant, lounge and convention center.

The Westbank itself dates back to 1928, when Ferris Clark, son of Mayor Barzilla W. Clark, built two log buildings by the Snake River to accommodate motorists on their way to Yellowstone National Park. Over 52 years, Clark expanded with a red brick motel, then a restaurant and lounge, then more motel rooms. He retired in 1980 and died in 1987 at age 79.

After Clark left, the property went by different names, including Red Lion and finally the Hotel on the Falls. It was owned by Jim and Sharon Bennett and Robert and Sharon Paulus, the children of Olga Gustafson Rigby, who had taken over after Clark’s death. In 2012, however, the hotel was deeded to trusts set up by the families while Watkins bought the motel, restaurant, lounge and convention center.
An old postcard from the '60s, when the restaurant and lounge were added.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

EIRMC names assistant chief nursing officer

Jami Lieber
Jami Lieber has been named assistant chief nursing officer at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. In this role, Lieber will work with the chief nursing officer to oversee clinical nursing operations throughout the hospital, ensure quality patient care and lead efforts to increase patient satisfaction. Lieber recently served as administrative director of medical surgical services, as well as administrative director of cardiovascular and imaging services, at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas. Prior to her tenure at Southern Hills, Lieber oversaw cardiovascular services at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals for 14 years. Lieber holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from University of Nevada Las Vegas and a master’s degree in business administration from Roseman University.

Monday, May 11, 2020

From TV to online | Nate Eaton, East Idaho News

Nate Eaton
Renae Oswald
eastidahoentrepreneurs.com

In 2006, Nate Eaton started his television career at KIDK and was there for three years, until he moved to Richmond, Va., to work for the ABC station there. After working for the Richmond station for about four years he received a call from Frank Vandersloot, owner of Melaleuca, with an idea to do an online news agency.

“The answer was no," he said. "I'd just gotten married, we'd just bought a house and I'd just signed a new contract with my TV station. Looking at it then, it was kind of career suicide. Once you leave TV it's hard to get back in.”

Two years went by, however, and he had kept the offer it in the back of his mind when he got another call from Vandersloot. After meeting with him and deciding a move back to Idaho would give him more of what his life needed, the answer was yes.

The only direction that Eaton was given when starting East Idaho News was to build a good product. He was given the creative freedom to construct his vision of an online agency, and in five years' time it has grown to what it is today.

Initially, Eaton didn't think it would work. “I figured, I could go and do this because I was ready for a change anyway. ... I'll go and do this for two or three years and if it completely bombs I'll go and do something else. We'll move back to the East Coast and maybe I'll get back in TV," he said. "It has succeeded a bazillion times better than I thought it would.”

East Idaho News covers a wide range of stories from public interest to investigative reporting. Much of what they report on comes from the public. “We want to interact with our audience," Eaton said. "Our audience is very interactive, and we like that for the most part."


When asked about negative feedback, he said that in the beginning it was hard to take and he had to work to not take it personally. “The instant reaction is to become defensive," he said. Today, he's got a more measured attitude. "For the people who are angry with me, I'd love to sit down and have lunch with them. I want to understand your perspective,” he said. “Generally though, within two to three days I've forgotten about it. The news cycle is so short.”

East Idaho News has been a conduit for giving to the community. One of the most well known avenues is Secret Santa during Christmastime. “It was our first year, and I got a call from a local couple who said they wanted to give away $100,000,” he said. The couple's challenge was that they didn't know how to find people in true need, so they asked for Eaton's help. That gave him the idea to bring a camera along to record the giving and spread the good feeling of being generous.

“We were out until Christmas Eve that year giving this money away and posting videos.” This was noticed by a national television show that shared some of these stories. It has continued to grow year over year, and this past year East Idaho News was able to give away $500,000 to needy families across eastern Idaho. Last year there were 4,000 applications. Throughout the year Nate receives emails from people all over the world who have been watching these videos on YouTube and have been inspired.

Having covered news since 2006, Eaton said his most challenging stories have been those who have involved children. “A lot of times, after the fact, some of my best relationships are those that I've covered in those horrible situations,” he said. He related that the stories where he has been able to help make a difference are some of his favorites.

Working with Dateline NBC on the Lori Vallow story has been a great experience, one on which they have been able to share resources. “We are independent at East Idaho News," Eaton said.
"Anybody anywhere can have our stories, just give us credit. On this particular story we are working more with Dateline just because they have helped us so much.” Despite the national attention, Eaton said he loves east Idaho and doesn't have plans to go to a bigger market at this time.

Eaton admits that he has feelings of doubt from time to time, but the stories keep him going. He's carried by the people he gets to talk to and share their lives. “There's a lot of insecurities that I have and sometimes I need to just push through it."

The month of March was the largest East Idaho News has ever had, and there's no sign it will slow down. Eaton would like to expand to other parts of the state and perhaps do some national expansion to small towns eventually. He's hoping that he's setting a precedent that can be replicated.

Information

To learn more about East Idaho News, visit their website at https://www.eastidahonews.com/. Check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/EastIdahoNews/. Find them on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd7U6pdRYzU-K_vFqwzLBqQ.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

CISA, INL launch routing tool for truckers, drivers

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL) launched a new Commercial Routing Assistance (CRA) tool today for truckers and other commercial drivers in the U.S. This free app incorporates coordinated data streams and plots multiple routing options so commercial operators can plan and manage vehicle movements across multiple states quickly in times of disasters or other restrictions.

“The nation’s critical infrastructure and essential services rely on the ability to move goods along our transportation systems and disruptions can cause supply chain issues and ripple effects across the country. This app will help the trucking industry operate effectively and efficiently and prepare for emergency situations in order to ensure the delivery of goods and resources to government, industry and the American public,” said Bob Kolasky who leads CISA’s National Risk Management Center.

This app, which CISA funded and INL developed in partnership with industry and government operational professionals, leverages coordinated data streams provided by the All Hazards Consortium (AHC) Sensitive Information Sharing Environment (SISE) to visualize and streamline commercial vehicle movement across multiple states by aggregating documents, information, and data relevant to the logistics industry in times of restricted operations.

"Our capabilities are highly relevant to the missions of CISA and the Department of Homeland Security," said Marianne Walck, INL's deputy laboratory director for science and technology. "This technology is just one of the many products America's national laboratories are developing during this time of need, and I couldn't be more proud of their work.”

For more information and access to the Commercial Routing Assistance (CRA) tool landing page, visit https://cra.inl.gov 

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)  https://www.cisa.gov/

Idaho National Laboratory (INL)  https://inl.gov/

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Eligibility criteria for Idaho Rebound grants announced

Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Monday the full eligibility criteria and process for small businesses to apply for an Idaho Rebound cash grant.

Little announced last week that $300 million in cash grants will be made available to Idaho small businesses impacted by COVID-19. No other state in the country is putting up more money in direct cash support for small businesses. Cash grants of up to $10,000 will be directly deposited into the bank accounts for eligible businesses. More than 30,000 businesses could benefit.

The Governor’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee finalized the eligibility criteria and related details. Applications will be handled in two waves:
• Eligible entities with one to 19 employees may apply starting at noon May 11 through noon May 18.
• Eligible entities with one to 50 employees may apply starting at noon May 18 through noon May 22.

All applicants must first establish a secure Taxpayer Access Point (TAP) account if they do not already have one, in order to protect their personal and business information on submitted applications.

All eligibility criteria, information on how to apply along with instructions on how to gain a TAP account are available at https://rebound.idaho.gov/idaho-rebound-cash-grants-for-small-businesses/.

Recipients of the grants will be shared at Transparent.Idaho.Gov when information is available.