For decades, our nation’s top leaders and best disaster response teams with the Federal Emergency Management Agency have looked to one trusted source for understanding just how bad a particular emergency might be.
If that sounds like a joke, it’s not. It’s actually a legitimate metric used by FEMA to determine the likely scale of assistance needed for disaster recovery. Whenever a Waffle House shuts its doors in the lead-up to a potential disaster or in the aftermath of one, it’s a sign FEMA takes seriously.
There’s even a name for that metric: The Waffle House Index. Coined by FEMA administrator Craig Fugate following the Joplin tornado disaster in 2011, the index has three levels: “green” for Waffle House restaurants with limited damage; “yellow” for restaurants without power and low food supplies; and “red” for restaurants that are closed.
Right now, as the restaurant chain has just closed nearly 500 of its nearly 2,000 restaurants, that index is at threat level red.
18 Roper Mountain Road
2815 Laurens Road
208 Exchange Village Drive East
4620 Clemson Boulevard
2 Justice Lane
1064 Tiger Boulevard
What it signifies
The Waffle House Index is not simply a measurement of how that particular chain of restaurants will be affected by a disaster. Like a canary in a coal mine, it has far more wide-reaching implications.
Dan Stoneking, FEMA director of external affairs, said it signifies how the entire community will recover.
“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,” Stoneking said in a blog post. “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.”
Of its nearly 2,000 locations, 1,574 remain open for carry-out service. We’ll keep updating this story if any additional closures are announced.