The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) often looks to the Waffle House—a popular restaurant chain in the South—to evaluate a disaster (such as a hurricane). “Green” means that the Waffle House is serving a full menu and the restaurant has electrical power. “Yellow” means that the Waffle House is serving a limited menu, probably because power is out and the restaurant is using a generator. “Red” means that the Waffle House restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage.
The Tallahassee (FL) Democrat stated on June 20, 2006:
“And one quick way to gauge a town’s level of damage is to see if the local Waffle House is open. Division of Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate said that when those places don’t have electricity or hot water, recovery crews need to stop and check out the town.”
FEMA’s Craig Fugate is credited with the “Waffle House Index,” although that term didn’t show up in newspaper articles until 2011.
Wikipedia: Waffle House
Waffle House, Inc., is a restaurant chain with more than 2,100 locations in 25 states in the United States. Most of the locations are in the South, where the chain remains as a regional cultural icon. Waffle House is headquartered in an unincorporated part of Gwinnett County, Georgia, near Norcross.
Wikipedia: Waffle House Index
The Waffle House Index is an informal metric used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine the impact of a storm and the likely scale of assistance required for disaster recovery. The measure is based on the reputation of the Waffle House restaurant chain 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 May 2011, following the 2011 Joplin tornado; the two Waffle House restaurants in Joplin remained open after the EF5 multiple-vortex tornado struck the city on May 22. According to Fugate, “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.”
The Index has three levels, based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm:
. Green: the restaurant is serving a full menu, indicating the restaurant has power and damage is limited.
. Yellow: the restaurant is serving a limited menu, indicating there may be no power or only power from a generator or food supplies may be low.
. Red: the restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage.
20 June 2006, Tallahassee (FL) Democrat, “Florida shares its storm plans” by Bill Cotterell, pg. B4:
When a big storm is roaring toward Florida, there is no nice way to tell people to evacuate, the head of state emergency preparations told disaster officials from 12 states Monday.
And one quick way to gauge a town’s level of damage is to see if the local Waffle House is open. Division of Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate said that when those places don’t have electricity or hot water, recovery crews need to stop and check out the town.
3 April 2008, Florida Today (Melbourne, FL), “Forecasters up storm predictions” by Rick Neale, pg. A1:
Craig Fugate is director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. When disaster agencies plan rescue missions to aid victims of future disasters—for example, airboat rescues of Lake Okeechobee flood survivors—he told conference attendees that the government should partner with the private sector. Not compete with it.
“When we roll into a community, and Waffle House is serving, why do local officials believe we need to be handing out free food, water and ice?” Fugate asked. “You have to understand: If Waffle House is closed, that’s pretty bad. But if they’re open, that’s a good sign.”
What Do Waffles Have to Do with Risk Management?
According to an Olin Business School professor at the Washington University in St. Louis, a waffle chain, of all places, demonstrates that companies vulnerable to supply-chain disruptions from natural disasters can gain a competitive advantage by implementing strong risk management plans.
Jul 6, 2011 Laura Walter
Waffle House Index
The “Waffle House Index,” first coined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Director W. Craig Fugate, is based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm and indicates how prepared a business is in case of a natural disaster.
For example, if a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well prepared for disasters, Kouvelis said, it’s rare for the index to hit red. For example, the Joplin, Mo., Waffle House survived the tornado and remained open.
July 7, 2011
News of the Day – What do Waffle Houses Have to Do with Risk Management?
Author: Dan Stoneking
As Craig 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.
The Wall Street Journal
How to Measure a Storm’s Fury One Breakfast at a Time
Disaster Pros Look to ‘Waffle House Index’; State of the Menu Gives Clue to Damage
By VALERIE BAUERLEIN
September 1, 2011
WELDON, N.C.—When a hurricane makes landfall, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency relies on a couple of metrics to assess its destructive power.
First, there is the well-known Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. Then there is what he calls the “Waffle House Index.”
Green means the restaurant is serving a full menu, a signal that damage in an area is limited and the lights are on. Yellow means a limited menu, indicating power from a generator, at best, and low food supplies. Red means the restaurant is closed, a sign of severe damage in the area or unsafe conditions.
12 September 2011, Nation’s Restaurant News, “Forefront” by Ron Ruggless, pg. 6:"Waffle House Index’ offers gauge of hurricane damage
Washington - Economists have tapped the “Big Mac Index” for decades to measure purchasing power around the world, and now we learn the Federal Emergency Management Agency relies on its own foodservice ruler: the “Waffle House Index.”
FEMA informally gauges the impact of a hurricane by how quickly and with what menu the Waffle House chain reopens its stores.
Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator, outlined the informal measurement as early as 2009. If the post-storm Waffle House is open with lights and serving a full menu, that’s level green and indicates limited damage. If the store is using a generator and has a limited menu, that’s level yellow. If the unit is closed, that’s level red and means damage is severe.
54 Bizarre Ways You Can Track The Economy
Elena Holodny Nov. 23, 2014, 3:09 PM
The Waffle House index
The Concept: The Waffle House notoriously stays open during natural disasters. So if it’s closed, that means that it was a really bad natural disaster with devastating effects on the economy.
The Proof: After Hurricane Irene, 22 Waffle Houses lost power in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Only one wasn’t open by Wednesday after it was hit — a location in coastal Virginia — which was a particularly hard-hit location.
“If you get [to a place where a disaster hit] and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad,” said FEMA administrator Craig Fugate.
FEMA unofficially uses a ‘Waffle House Index’ to measure how bad hurricane damage gets
October 6, 2016
And one of the more popular informal measures is the so-called “The Waffle House Index” — an indicator that is actually unofficially used by FEMA.
Here’s the gist of it: Waffle House restaurants notoriously stay open during natural disasters. So if the diner closes during an event, that suggests it was a really bad natural disaster with devastating effects on the economy. And on the flip side, if it stays open and serving a full menu, damage was relatively limited.