From deep inside the Willowbank Building, Randy Rockey prepares for the worst.
As director of the Centre County Emergency Management Agency, Rockey toils in the ground-floor office, planning, preparing and coordinating responses to the incidents and disasters that befall the county. In an emergency, the entire county government and response can be handled from the single agency.
All of those planning and educating responsibilities, will soon be passed to a new director. Rockey recently announced his plans to retire as the EMA director, effective Jan. 16.
“I’ve been doing this for 13 years now,” he said. “I’m turning 60 and it’s time to enjoy life.”
Rockey, a retired Air Force captain, was hired in January 2002 under the leadership of then-commissioners Scott Conklin, Keith Bierly and Connie Lucas. Over the years, he’s helped the county face several major incidents — nothing to the extent of a major hurricane, he said, but the agency helped residents and coordinated efforts.
A “rash” of airplane crashes during his first years was particularly challenging, he said. Several planes and gliders went down between 2002 and 2007, and the EMA helped coordinate the search and recovery efforts.
“Thank goodness we don’t have many airplane crashes now,” he said.
The EMA also assists in vehicle accidents, he said, recalling a winter storm in 2004 that caused a 44-car pileup that killed six people and injured 17 on Interstate 80.
“We take those lessons learned — from the airplane crashes and the vehicle crashes — and we go out and we brief the emergency managers in other counties about what we did, what we faced and how we overcame the obstacles.”
Rockey described his role as dealing with “the big stuff,” helping to plan, prepare, mitigate and respond to the disasters of the county. The EMA also helps schools, hospitals and chemical facilities with preparedness and emergency-response plans.
Although he is retiring, he says, he will still be involved in educating on the state and federal levels on emergency-management topics such as incident command, emergency system management and planned response.
He said he hopes he “brought a better working relationship among all the first responders,” noting that all responders are willing to leave their egos at the door and develop an honest, day-to-day working relationship.
“Right now, we’re at an all-time high, that I know of, within Centre County with all these agencies communicating and working together at major incidents,” he said. “Hopefully, I had a part of that.”
As for Rockey’s potential replacement, the position will be advertised nationally, county Administrator Tim Boyde said. He couldn’t give a timeline on how long the position may be vacant, as the search for a director is very involved.
“Good EMA directors are not a dime a dozen,” he said. “It’s a highly specialized, technical position.”
Rockey “has served us well. He’s very capable and knowledgeable, and he’s going to be a tough act to fill.”
Rockey wishes his replacement well, emphasizing the importance of the agency and the community.
“Hopefully the importance of emergency management will continue in this county,” he said, “and somebody will replace me and continue to carry the torch on and foster all these relationships,” he said. “The ultimate goal, and our ultimate client, is every resident in this county. That’s our client here. If we’re not doing that job, it needs to be fixed.”