It seems as though the Waffle House— a southern restaurant chain known for its late hours and cheap food— could not have anything to do with disaster relief. However, in recent years Waffle House has become an unofficial authority for disaster affected areas, and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has even coined the term ‘Waffle House Index’ to describe how badly affected an area has been following a natural disaster.
Before, during, and after a disaster such as a hurricane or a tornado, FEMA looks towards private businesses, such as Waffle House, to determine how badly impact the businesses and the overall area is. Waffle House as a company has a simple philosophy— they never close. The restaurant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, FEMA has quickly discovered that if a Waffle House is closed following a natural disaster, that is a very good sign that the area has been deeply affected. In fact, Waffle House has its own storm center which activates when necessary, according to ABC News. The center plans for a natural disaster in a similar way as any government agency would plan for the same event, and creates a plan for getting the necessary supplies and manpower to the restaurants most affected by the natural disaster.
Waffle House isn’t the only company which FEMA relies on in order to gauge storm damage following a disaster. In fact, in 2017 FEMA announced that it had developed a similar relationship with companies such as Target, Walmart, Macy’s, Wegmans, Lowes, Walgreens, and Safeway. However, these companies tend not to fare as well in the aftermath of a bad storm. Through tracking their recovery process, along with Waffle House’s expedited recoveries, it became very clear that if any place of business would be open following a bad storm, it would be Waffle House.
Thus, FEMA developed a color coded key that has been used to evaluate the degree of damage following a storm. The key is simple— red, yellow, and green. If a Waffle House is closed completely, the restaurant is given a red, and it is likely that the area has been hit very hard by the storm. If a Waffle House is open, but serving a limited menu, it is likely that the area has been hit semi hard and may be dealing with some power outages or water issues. However, if the Waffle House is up and running, then the restaurant is given a green and it is likely that while the area may still have garnered damage, their basic services (such as water and power) have remained intact.
Throughout history, there have been odd allies found in odd places— case in point, the US and the Soviet Union during World War II. Waffle House’s ongoing relationship with FEMA and disaster relief may not be as weird as Stalin’s friendship with Roosevelt— however it is still odd nonetheless. But in the aftermath of a bad storm, it is integral to the survival of the area to think quickly, and come up with creative solutions to problems; and the Waffle House Index is just that.