Waffle House Index: Restaurant Helps FEMA Respond to Hurricanes

The Waffle House restaurant chain prides itself on staying open even in the most drastic weather conditions; torrential rains or hurricanes, the restaurant does its utmost to stay open for its customers. The restaurants are so reliable that they are now being used by FEMA as an indicator of destruction following natural disasters, with what is being called the “Waffle House Index.”

When a hurricane or other natural disasters strike, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) relies on many different gauges in order to assess dangerous situations.

Now, FEMA relies on the breakfast restaurant’s service as a gauge for damage, according to the Wallstreet Journal.

If Waffle House restaurants are serving a full menu, it signals that damage in the area is limited, and that lights are on - a green message.

Yellow means a limited menu, signaling that power from a generator is being used and low food supplies.

Red means severe damage or unsafe conditions- usually meaning power outage and loss of water, and that Waffle Houses are closed.

FEMA director Craig Fugate, who coined the term “Waffle House Index,” spoke with the Journal. He said if a Waffle House is closed, that it’s “really bad.” He added, “That’s where you get to work.”

“Our mission is to deliver a unique experience to our customers through delivering great food, friendly, attentive service, excellent price and a welcoming presence,” the website for Waffle House states.

The restaurant has over 1,600 sites in 25 states, and claims to be the world’s leading server of waffles.

After hurricane Katrina destroyed seven Waffle House restaurants and closed over 100, the chain created a plan for being prepared in times of crisis. Using a limited menu, based on what is working in the kitchen and stocking up on supplies, Waffle Houses are able to stay open as well as bounce back quicker than most businesses.

During last week’s hurricane, Irene, 22 Waffle House restaurants lost power, reported the Journal. North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware restaurants were affected, while kitchens in North Carolina and Missouri were open and busy.

These facts helped FEMA assess where the hurricane damage was most severe.

“The Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound – it also tells us how the larger community sis faring,” FEMA explained to EHS Today.

Waffle House spends very little on advertising, and has built a successful business strategy on word-of-mouth and being reliably open to desperate customers in times of need.

Chains such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot are compared similarly to Waffle House restaurant’s ability to respond to disaster well, according to the Huffington Post.