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EDITORIAL: The nation has gotten much better when it comes to responding to natural disasters

While millions of people are still coming to terms with the loss of property and life in the wake of the massive storms in Texas and the Southeast, one thing has become apparent: The United States — from the nation’s relief agencies to the White House — is getting a lot better at responding to hurricanes.

We all remember President George W. Bush’s premature praise of his FEMA chief, Michael Brown, shortly before the government botched the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That fallout from that response, coupled with lessons learned in the wake of the terrorists attacks on the United States in 2001, have prompted lawmakers and relief agencies to continuously reassess and refine their disaster plans.

“There’s no doubt that we’re doing better,” one evacuation expert told The New York Times last week.

Government agencies, as well as President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, received praise for the swift response to Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The federal government, local officials and the Trump administration deserve similar praise for the combined response over the last couple of weeks in Texas and the Southeast.

This improved preparation and access to information played a pivotal role in the most recent storms.

Because Harvey was expected to bring Houston pounding rains — but not a storm surge or high winds — Mayor Sylvester Turner and other local officials did not call for a mandatory evacuation, the Times reported, as it was simply too difficult to know which areas would flood and which wouldn’t. In Florida, however, Gov. Rick Scott told 6.5 million people to leave ahead of the storm because the expected Category 5 winds would simply be too dangerous.

As the Times notes, President Donald Trump was similarly engaged before and during the storms. As weather worsened on the Gulf Coast, the president posted numerous updates about the status of the storm and praised the government’s response. He and his Cabinet had to teleconferences that weekend, and he signed a federal disaster proclamation for Texas.

“Great coordination between agencies at all levels of government. Continuing rains and flash floods are being dealt with. Thousands rescued,” Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday morning. Later adding that “many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen. Good news is that we have great talent on the ground.”

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida, Mr. Trump retweeted the latest news about the storm, and urged people to heed warnings of state and local officials to evacuate. He also repeatedly highlighted — and praised — the coordinated preparation and relief efforts.

While Americans mourn the loss of life caused by Harvey and Irma, and reach out to help those affected rebuild, we can take a little bit of solace in the fact that preparation mitigated both the death toll and the fallout — and that the United States will likely be even more ready for similar storms in the future.

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