My name is Debra McGhan and I am the owner and founder of U Rock Safety. I am also one of the founders, first President and Executive Director for the North America Outdoor Institute. I am a professional journalist by training and completed internships at the Anchorage Times and Frontiersman Newspapers in Alaska. My work has been published in national and international publications with my first published work part of my journalism studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage. This article was on the risk and dangers of hypothermia.
After my husband Bruce was killed in 1986 after a huge mound of frozen earth avalanched onto him while at work, I realized there were a lot of important lessons for traveling, working and playing outdoors that were not being taught in schools. My teenage son had a snowmachine, skis and snowboard and spent his days exploring the mountains surrounding our home in Valdez. The day he came home with a horrified look on his face and told me he’d nearly been buried by an avalanche, I knew I had to do something.
Searching for a program that would captivate audiences and provide them with valuable information they needed to learn in order to avoid injury or death, I came up with almost nothing. The one program I did find was a three-day course with a lot of technical information and a hefty price tag. Not something a 16-year-old would be willing to invest in.
I was writing for Outside Magazine and covering the World Extreme Skiing Championships when I met the 1995 champion, Dean Cummings. Dean shared my passion for teaching others practical, critical skills that can keep people alive. He also has a charismatic personality and incredible drive. Together we enlisted the help and support of two others (Alex Eaton and Karen Stokes Cummings) that also shared our interest in outdoor safety and together formed the North America Outdoor Institute. And for the next ten years I focused on writing grants for NAOI.
For more than seven years, Dean and I worked closely together to build up the non-profit into a strong, well-respected educational institution. In 2010 Dean started H2O Gear and I continued as the Chief Executive Director for NAOI until October 2013 when NAOI had grown to a seven-member board of directors and a staff of four key employees and seven part-time.
At that point I retired and like Dean, Karen and Alex have all done before me, I am taking a new path that I hope will allow me to continue to support the world of outdoor recreation, environmental awareness and safety.
It is my goal to devote my time to researching, writing and sharing stories and information that can help others enjoy healthy, safe outdoor adventures whether traveling, working or recreating outdoors.