When it comes to hurricane or tornado season, or even a good patch of ice and snow like the one that is falling on several east coast cities today, the federal government has a new ally in disaster preparation… The Waffle House. Yes, Waffle House.
FEMA head administrator, Chris Fugate, is known for coining the term, ‘Waffle House Index’ to help colleagues know just how serious a disaster or inclement weather has been to a community.
There are three measures in the index: green, yellow and red. “Green means the restaurant is open as usual, yellow means it’s on a limited menu, and red means the restaurant’s closed.” I’m not making this up.
And for the Waffle House index a yellow means serious conservation at the restaurants under the distinctly lettered signs says Pat Warner, VP of Culture at the Atlanta area based restaurant chain.
“For example, the man who handles restaurant operations also monitors the weather during hurricane season. The company starts tracking storms when they’re still a tropical depression, Warner said.”
Waffle House also has a hurricane playbook issued to every employee that has specific instructions on how to respond during a crisis. When extreme weather appears to threaten an area, generators and personnel teams are sent to the area to help.
Another contingency plan is Waffle House’s emergency menu, which is engineered for efficiency and conservation during a crisis. Bacon is not available as it takes too much of the surface area of the grill and sausage is available instead. Waffles, the company’s trademark product also are not available during crises as they take too much of the generator-produced electricity to cook.
The 24-hour restaurant chain prides itself on serving its customers at all hours of the day, seven days a week. And FEMA caught on to this. They discovered that if a Waffle House was closed after a storm, then that meant things were really bad.
“It just doesn’t happen where Waffle House is normally shut down,” said Philip Strouse, FEMA’s private sector liaison for the Southeast.
Strouse said Waffle Houses are able to bounce back relatively quickly after a natural disaster, and have a good sense of what their statuses are in a community.
“They’re sort of the canary in the coal mine if you will,” he said.
In 2011, the current head of FEMA, administrator Craig Fugate, was said to have coined what’s called the Waffle House Index. There are three measures in the index: green, yellow and red.
Green means the restaurant is open as usual, yellow means it’s on a limited menu, and red means the restaurant’s closed.
The index isn’t necessarily scientific, Strouse said, but it allows FEMA to know quickly about how things are on the ground.
Waffle House was founded in Avondale Estates, outside of Atlanta, GA in 1955 by Joe Roger, Sr. and Tom Forkner. As of 2013, there were 1700 restaurants in 25 states.
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