I checked in on the coverage of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath this morning. Part of the report included a video commentary from Bill Schneider regarding leadership during the crisis. His conclusion, too little leadership and what there is has been inept.
At the end of the clip, he asks, "What if this had been a terrorist attack?"
Things would have been different then. There is nothing in human kind's arsenal that could create this type of devastation. A nuke could create a burst of 100+ mph winds, but the sustained force is beyond human capacity.
Supposing that it had been an explosives laden boat detonated next to the levy, causing this massive flooding. In that case, the information dynamics and social expectations would have been radically different.
No one in New Orleans would have seen the attack coming, nor immediately afterward would they have expected a prepared response from outside. The hurricane gave plenty of warning and prepared for the expectation that all of the results should have been foreseen. If the event had been unexpected, such as the levee failing on a bright and sunny day, then cause, and hence responsibility, would be unknown. An implicit social contract exists between the government and the people. People obey laws with the expectation that the government will then provide the structure for life to carry on, be it utilities or disaster response.
While one could credit Giulianni's leadership on 9/11, the fact that it was clear that it was clearly an attack on the World Trade Center was the psychological cue the prevented widespread civil disruption despite the outter burroughs being cleared of police. It is only necessary that outisde aggression be a potential cause for a community to stay coherent. Take for example the 2003 Northeast blackout. The difference with respect to a previous blackout is that the later incident had the doubt of being an attack by outsiders.
New Orleans did not have the benefit of the doubt with Hurricane Katrina. No one can take revenge against nature, so it then becomes a matter of individuals making demands of government in return for having obeyed the law, or in some cases making a pretense of obeying. Given the expectations fostered by the welfare state, those expectations were unachievable given the infrastructure devastation.