How the Waffle House is used to determine a hurricane's fury

Lloyd Doyle
September 15, 2018

With Hurricane Florence barreling towards the east coast, the Waffle House is one of the countless businesses and agencies keeping a pulse on the storm. (If so, it will be the first storm of that strength in the southeastern coastal region.) A state of emergency has already been declared in the Carolinas and southern Virginia, and a million people have already evacuated their homes. Here's how Fugate described the test on a 2016 episode of NPR's comedy podcast Wait Wait.

"A lot of times, especially after a big storm, we're the only ones still open because we've got generators", said Warner.

Waffle House is headquartered in Georgia, and has more than 2,000 restaurants, majority in the South.

Hurricane Florence may be looming ever closer, but for now, Waffle House's hash browns are mostly still sizzling and its eggs are still cracking. Waffle House's record for staying open has even the Federal Emergency Management agency unofficially analyzing the activity to know how severe a storm is. Disaster responders still use this index to this day.

For most restaurants, closing for a hurricane is done without the blink of an eye.

Former FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate came up with the Waffle House Index as a way to determine how an overall community was faring during a disaster.

The index turns red when Waffle House closes, which FEMA says is rare. We call it red.

"They know immediately which stores are going to be affected and they call their employees to know who can show up and who cannot", Panos Kouvelis, Ph.D., the Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management and director of the Olin's Boeing Center for Technology, Information and Manufacturing, explained to EHS Today. "You haven't found the bad stuff yet". FEMA has since developed a color-coded system that is dependent on Waffle House's status. "The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can reopen, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again - signaling a stronger recovery for that community". "After a storm, they're really looking to us to be there to help them out because they're used to us being there the rest of the year".

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