Now here comes Irma to test responders

A  bloodthirsty clown living in storm sewers terrorizes children and causes black goo to gush out of the bathroom sink. I might check out the new version of “It.”  When the movie opens Friday, it might provide a short escape from the real news of nuclear brinkmanship, deadly floods — and Congress back in town.

I spent the last week on the New England seaside, chowing down steamed clams and lobster rolls. But in a small town, watching the calm, cold Atlantic, no one could ignore the heartbreaking aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I spoke with one townie who reported the local Coast Guard contingent had dispatched to Texas, as did first responders from nearby towns.

By most early accounts, the federal government responded competently to the worst hurricane in U.S. history.  This includes FEMA, the Border Patrol, the National Guard, even the Small Business Administration. No doubt the presidential “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” comment after Hurricane Katrina occupied a front-of-mind position for many. The Harvey situation is big, chaotic, and unpredictable, its human toll staggering. But it shows the government can learn and adapt.

In addition to its main relief mission, FEMA has had to battle people impersonating FEMA agents and spreading false information. On its web page for Harvey, FEMA includes a section on fraud and price gouging.

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No one can fully manage events on the scale of Hurricane Harvey. But relative to Katrina, the government plans and coordinates sooner, when a coming disaster is a near certainty. Drone surveillance, networked water level monitors and use of social media have added a technological boost.

But above all, good response starts in the hearts and minds of the people called to respond.

Today, my question is whether Congress will match the courage, selflessness and effectiveness of those on the ground in Texas. If members agree Texas is eligible for federal disaster assistance, they shouldn’t tie it to other matters on their agenda. When people have been rendered that vulnerable, you don’t bind assistance to raising the debt ceiling, setting the federal budget or immigration enforcement. Republican leadership this morning signaled tomorrow’s assistance vote will be on a clean bill.

As this column posts, Hurricane Irma has reached Category 5 strength and is headed to the Florida coast. If it causes flooding anywhere near as severe as Harvey, first responders at all levels will need the money and people to operate effectively on two fronts.