Emergency management career is full of surprises

ELLSWORTH — Emergencies are everywhere, never-ending and represent varying levels of concern from a days-long power outage to a blizzard to a multi-year pandemic.

But Hancock County residents and visitors can rest assured. They have a 10-year emergency management veteran as the director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency.

Andrew Sankey marks 10 years on the job Feb. 11.

If you’re wondering what an emergency management agency does, you’re not alone.

Sankey explained that all levels of government share emergency management responsibilities.

“Local government is the front line of emergency management, and the county agency serves as a link between local government and the state,” Sankey said. The focus is on preserving life, property and the environment. “So much of what we do is statutorily governed.”

Authority for emergency management in Maine comes from the Maine Civil Emergency Preparedness Act, which requires each community to appoint an emergency management agency director as well as the county, according to Sankey.

“At any level of government, the EMA director’s duties are to oversee planning, training and preparing for emergency response during non-disaster times, and to act as the coordinator of emergency operations during disasters,” he said.

“The greatest challenge is getting people to pay attention,” Sankey said. “Even though we live in a relatively quiet, peaceful corner of the world, we know [for weather events] at least 72 hours out that something’s coming and we need to plan and prepare accordingly.

“I’d like to see everyone plan and prepare across the board for all hazards — the natural, the human-caused and technological risks — and plan accordingly.”

Go to Whether you are planning for a household or a business, there are basic steps to follow for emergency preparedness.

“For technological risks, we remain very unprepared,” the director said, speaking about what might occur if the electric grid failed or communication lines went down.

People may not realize that cell phones are fed service with fiber optic lines that are on the same utility poles that come down in storms and motor vehicle accidents — so “we’re seeing intermittent outages, for example, as a result,” Sankey said.

“In a Jetson world, we have some Flintstone technology that’s going to be alive and work,” Sankey said. “So analog alternatives as opposed to digital.”

Of course, not everything is geared around emergencies.

“Much of our work is planned events,” Sankey said. Those would include the MDI Marathon and the Blue Hill Fair, which he described as the single largest gathering of people in Hancock County.

Sankey had a career in banking before joining county government. The former bank vice president had been a volunteer firefighter in Gouldsboro, which is where he got to know former Emergency Management Agency Director Ralph Pinkham and Deputy Director Linda Feury and became interested in serving as the director himself.

“I inherited an excellent organization from my mentors Ralph Pinkham, [former deputy director] Linda Feury, former Ellsworth Fire Chief Rob McKenney and Dick Bishop,” said Sankey, listing names. “I have to give them the kudos there. I was able to build upon the excellent organization they established.”

Bishop is the former major for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office and serves on the EMA staff as a special planner, doing school and other institutional emergency planning.

McKenney worked under Pinkham’s tenure, providing planning as well.

“I’ve worked with seven commissioners who’ve been very supportive and allowed me to prioritize what needed to be prioritized,” said Sankey. “That’s been invaluable.”

The Maine Emergency Management Agency was established in 1949 as the Maine Civil Defense and Public Safety Agency. Public law redesignated the name to Maine Emergency Management Agency effective Sept. 29, 1987.

Sankey said the concept of emergency management as an integral part of government’s public safety services evolved in the 1970s. Public administrators discovered there are common emergency response functions that have to be performed in all technological and natural disasters, he said.


Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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