What Is The Waffle House Index? FEMA sometimes uses an unexpected metric to figure out how bad storms will be: the Waffle House Index. Hosts Ari Shapiro and Audie Cornish explain the significance of the southern breakfast chain in federal disaster preparation.
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What Is The Waffle House Index?

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What Is The Waffle House Index?

What Is The Waffle House Index?

What Is The Waffle House Index?

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FEMA sometimes uses an unexpected metric to figure out how bad storms will be: the Waffle House Index. Hosts Ari Shapiro and Audie Cornish explain the significance of the southern breakfast chain in federal disaster preparation.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The federal government uses many different methods to determine how severe a storm might be, some like Doppler radar from the National Weather Service are incredibly sophisticated.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Others not so much. We give you the Waffle House Index.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PETER SAGAL: Could you tell us what the Waffle House Index is?

CRAIG FUGATE: Sure. If the Waffle House is open, everything's good.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: That is former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, the creator of the Waffle House Index, on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! in 2016.

SHAPIRO: Waffle House restaurants are open 24/7, so the threshold for them to close is extremely high, making them good measurements of a storm's severity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

FUGATE: If a Waffle House is closed because a disaster is bad, we call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow...

(LAUGHTER)

FUGATE: ...'Cause they've lost power.

SHAPIRO: And a completely open, full-menu Waffle House is green. Now, as Florence bears down on the Carolinas, some local Waffle Houses are already at red.

PAT WARNER: We have eight shut down now, and we'll shut more down as the storm comes on shore. We're not going to ride the storm out in a Waffle House.

CORNISH: That's Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner. He understands some people might scoff at the idea of using a breakfast joint to gauge the intensity of a hurricane, but he says that keeping an eye on the restaurants after the storm hits can tell you a lot about how a community is recovering.

WARNER: If we're opening up quickly, that's a good sign that community is going to come back quickly. If we are on a limited menu, that's probably because we're - have some utilities out, so it's going to take a bit longer for that community to come back.

SHAPIRO: And no one should underestimate Waffle House's emergency response plans. They are currently sending in what they call jump teams to the Carolinas.

WARNER: We have teams with generators that come in to help supply power and set up a fuel depot. Our CEO is in Charleston right now. Our executive vice president's already in North Carolina and South Carolina, ready for the storm.

CORNISH: With the jump teams in place, Warner says the griddles will be hot again in no time.

WARNER: Yeah, we're a little-bitty 24-hour short-order cook place, and that's what people see us as. And we're proud to be that. And that's one of the reasons we strive to come back quickly after a storm - 'cause we want to have that place where people can gather and talk about the storm over eggs and bacon and check in on their neighbors.

CORNISH: And while it's had its charms, the Waffle House Index is no longer a key indicator. Foodwise, they're still fans, but FEMA says they use many other factors to better gauge how a community is faring after a storm.

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