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How FEMA uses the 'Waffle House Index' to determine a storm's severity

How FEMA uses the 'Waffle House Index' to monitor a storm's severity (Gerry Dincher / CC BY-SA 2.0 via MGN online)

WASHINGTON (CIRCA) -- There are a number of factors experts use to determine how severe a hurricane is, including wind speed, rain fall and property damage.

And whether or not Waffle House is open.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) monitors the 'Waffle House Index,' a term coined by former administrator Craig Fugate, to determine how severely a storm has impacted an area.

The southern chain has a reputation for keeping its restaurants open, even in the midst of disasters. As EHS Today explains, if the restaurant is open with a full menu, that's a good sign - green on the index. If there's a limited menu, the scale is yellow, and if the restaurant is closed, the index is red.

Reaching red is rare.

In an article on its website, FEMA 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."

Panos Kouvelis, a business professor at Washington University in St. Louis, uses Waffle House as an example to teach his supply chain classes. He explains that restaurants like Waffle House that are consistently subjected to severe weather have developed exemplary risk management plans, which is why federal agencies rely on them to gauge a storm's impact.

“They know immediately which stores are going to be affected and they call their employees to know who can show up and who cannot,” he says. “They have temporary warehouses where they can store food and most importantly, they know they can operate without a full menu. This is a great example of a company that has learned from the past and developed an excellent emergency plan.”

The chain recognizes the national spotlight it has received, and embraces the responsibility. Spokesman Pat Warner says, "We try to get the restaurants open as quickly as possible after the storm because we're normally open 24/7, so we want to be there for everybody right after the storm as well."

In anticipation of Florence, Waffle House is staffing its own storm center to monitor the hurricane and be as prepared as possible.

Former Administrator Fugate said it best on National Public Radio in 2016:

"If the Waffle House is open, everything's good."

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