FEMA unofficially uses 'Waffle House Index' to gauge disasters

There are many indicators emergency management officials use to gauge the level of a disaster.

One lesser known indicator is whether or not Waffle Houses are open.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate first used what he calls the "Waffle House Index" in Florida during an active 2004 hurricane season. He noticed that Waffle Houses were among the first businesses to open in the hurricane-ravaged areas of Florida.

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The Waffle House Index has the following indicators:

  • green index means a Waffle House is open and offering a full menu.
  • yellow index means a Waffle House is open, but offering a limited menu.
  • red index means a Waffle House has been forced to close.

"The index itself isn't just about whether or not you can get pralines on your waffles or if you can get waffles at all, but rather about the damage in a neighborhood," FEMA communications specialist Jessica Stapf wrote in 2017.

Red indexes are rare and indicate very severe weather.

"We're a 24-hour restaurant, so oddly enough shutting down is a big deal for us," Waffle House's Director of Public Relations and External Affairs Pat Warner told Fox News ahead of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

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