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.
Professor Panos Kouvelis of Olin Business School says Waffle House, along with other chains, such as Home Depot, Walmart and Lowe’s, which do a significant proportion of their business in the southern US where there is a frequent risk of hurricanes, demonstrates the benefit of good risk management and disaster preparedness. Because the restaurants have a disaster plan and a cut-down menu prepared for times when there is no power or limited supplies, the Waffle House Index rarely reaches the red level.
The Waffle House Index sits alongside more formal measures of wind, rainfall, and other weather information, such as the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale, which are used to indicate the intensity of a storm.
On Thursday October 6th 2016, the Index reached red when all Waffle House restaurants on Florida’s I-95 between Titusville and Fort Pierce were closed. This was caused by Hurricane Matthew ravaging Caribbean islands and the East coast of the United States