How Waffle House Will Help Determine How Bad Florence Is

Brian Donegan
Published: September 14, 2018

While it may sound silly, one of the tools the Federal Emergency Management Agency informally uses to decide how bad a storm is and if it warrants evacuations is the status of Waffle House.

With 1,500 locations, mainly across the South and along the Gulf Coast, that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, it's a big deal when Waffle House closes its doors. 

Given the southern locations of most Waffle House restaurants, they are vulnerable to hurricanes, tropical storms and flooding rains. For that reason, it can be a good indicator of a storm's path of destruction when Waffle House is closed for business.

(MORE: Hurricane Florence Forecast)

This so-called "Waffle House Index" was created by former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. Here's how it works.

If Waffle House is open and serving its full menu, the index is green.

If the restaurant is open but only serving a limited menu, the index is yellow.

The index turns red when Waffle House is closed. FEMA noted it's rare for the index to turn red because "Waffle House is well-prepared for disasters."

Waffle House tweeted Tuesday that its storm center was activated and monitoring Florence, but it was not clear which locations in the hurricane's path were expected to close.

The company, according to a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, has a "hurricane playbook" that helps locations re-open following a catastrophe by limiting locations' menus as needed. The playbook shows "what to serve if there is gas but no electricity, or a generator but no ice." 

FEMA cautioned against taking the Waffle House Index too seriously, however.

"Look, I think it was used at a point in time," FEMA's Alex Amparo told reporters on a phone briefing obtained by ABC News. "There is no official use for it. Our focus is on more empirical data."

Florence was expected to make landfall along the Carolina coast on Friday with destructive winds, life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic rainfall flooding.


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