Hurricane Harvey

Improvised leadership in the storm

Why did Zachary Dearing step up to leadership when others didn’t?


The night of August 26-27 2017, Hurricane Harvey blasted through the small coastal town of Rockport TX with heavy rains and category 4 winds. About 100 residents rode out the storm at the Live Oak Learning Center. The city had opened the school as a shelter of last resort, but by the time the storm arrived in earnest, no one was in charge. In the course of the night, a small group of strangers became a working team. They ensured that everyone stayed calm, safe, and, in one case, alive. Formation of the group and its success was attributed to one spontaneous leader, Zachary Dearing.

We learned of the incident a few days later. We had the good fortune of getting in touch with Zach very quickly, and Susanne was able to clear prior commitments. She spent three weeks on the ground, interviewing people to try to understand why Zach had emerged as a leader when no one else had.

Study design

Type of study Qualitative interview
Data collection Rockport: Sep 2017 – Jan 2018
Participants Anyone who had been at the shelter at point during the 30 hours it was open.
Recruiting Snowballing
Flyers posted around town
Social media
Total interviews 17 individuals interviewed
19.5 hours of interview recordings


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