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Having Deep Conversations at the Waffle House? This Popular Restaurant Chain May Just Save Your Life

More than just a place where the Jonas Brothers often grab some late night eats along with some deep conversations, the Waffle House has served not only as a place for people to grab hearty breakfast meals, but a place that the government has relied on during times of natural disasters as well.

Waffle House, a Georgia-based restaurant chain, has more than 1,900 locations in 25 states, most of which are located in the south. Its claim to fame? Waffle House is open 24/7, offers 95-base menu items, and, of course, it’s famous waffles. Because of its sheer prominence in the south, as well as its operating hours, the Waffle House is also known for its ability to respond to natural disasters like storms and hurricanes, which gave birth to the Waffle House Index.

The Waffle Index, like the Big Mac Index, is an informal measure used by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to gauge a storm’s severity, effects and the appropriate response necessary to help those affected by the storm.

The term Waffle House Index was coined by Craig Fugate, FEMA’s director in 2004, and since then has been used to assess potential and future damage to a region, even to specific neighborhoods. By using data on which Waffle House locations remain open with limited menu options as well as if they close altogether, FEMA can approximately gauge the severity of a calamity with some accuracy and even remotely. If a Waffle House closes in an area, it is often used as a signal for evacuation as a necessary course of action, meaning things will be or are already bad. The Index has three levels, and red, which means store closure, tells us that things are really serious.

The Waffle House’s color coding index is an easy and straightforward way to communicate the severity of a natural calamity.

Because of most of Waffle House’s locations are in the south, emergency preparedness is important in an area where hurricanes, tornadoes and storms are frequent. The restaurant chain even has its own disaster plan or storm playbook, which is revised every year. Every employee from senior management to restaurant workers are trained for these type of events and it has “Waffle House jump teams” who quickly reopen restaurants as soon as they are safely able to do so. This need to open quickly or stay open is not only good for business but a much needed reprieve for those stricken by the disaster as well as the first responders, who are in need of a warm meal.

Waffle House customers eager for a hot meal after Hurricane Ian.

The Waffle House Index is also strangely accurate when it comes to the impact of these calamities. During Katrina, a devastating category 5 hurricane, about 107 locations were closed, while Idalia, a category 3, only 5 locations were closed. Interestingly, it doesn’t just predict or reflect the effects of hurricanes tornadoes and storms. During COVID-19, around 420 locations were closed, which signals that even the Waffle House is not immune to the effects of the pandemic.

The Waffle House Index for March 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic

So friends, do not underestimate the life-saving, soul-enriching power of eggs, bacon, and of course, waffles from the Waffle House. Even the Jonas Brothers agree.


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