Waffle House Index

Waffle House

The Waffle House Index is an informal metric used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine the effect of a storm and the likely scale of assistance required for disaster recovery. The measure is based on the reputation of the restaurant chain Waffle House for staying open during extreme weather and for reopening quickly, albeit sometimes with a limited menu, after very severe weather events such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

The term was coined by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in 2011, following the Joplin tornado, during which the two Waffle House restaurants in Joplin, Missouri, remained open.

The index has three levels, based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm: Green (full menu), Yellow (limited menu), and Red (the restaurant is closed). Waffle House, along with other chains (such as Home Depot, Walmart, and Lowe’s) which do a significant proportion of their business in the southern US where there is a frequent risk of hurricanes, have good risk management and disaster preparedness. Because of this, and a cut-down menu prepared for times when there is no power or limited supplies, the Waffle House Index rarely reaches the red level.

Dan Stoneking, FEMA director of external affairs, wrote in a FEMA blog post: ‘As Craig [Fugate] often says, the Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound – it also tells us how the larger community is faring. The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signaling a stronger recovery for that community. The success of the private sector in preparing for and weathering disasters is essential to a community’s ability to recover in the long run.’

In 2016, the index reached red when all Waffle House restaurants on Florida’s I-95 between Titusville and Fort Pierce were closed. This index change was caused by Hurricane Matthew ravaging Caribbean islands and the east coast of the United States. The index once again reached red in 2018, when 30 restaurants on the Florida Panhandle were closed ahead of Hurricane Michael.

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