For years, the Waffle House index has been an actual (albeit informal) metric the Federal Emergency Management Agency has used to gauge the effect of a storm and the scale of federal assistance that will be required in its aftermath.
Now, the popular restaurant chain has announced on Facebook that in the wake of social distancing and flattening the curve, they are at "Index Red."
[facebook https://www.facebook.com/WaffleHouse/photos/a.463036702703/10158273431142704/?type=3&theater expand=1]
The Waffle House index became "a thing" under former FEMA director Craig Fugate, who used the popular southern restaurant's ability to withstand storms as a bar for how communities would fare and recover. In a FEMA blogpost at the time, the Agency explained:
If a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it's yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well-prepared for disasters… it's rare for the index to hit red.
"As Craig often says, 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. The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signaling a stronger recovery for that community. 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."
Waffle House CEO explains origin of FEMA's 'Waffle House Index'
At WATM, we've seen this index in action firsthand. In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, I was deployed with FEMA to Baton Rouge to work in logistics at the Joint Field Office. With a shortage of hotel rooms for emergency relief workers, we slept on a tour bus donated by country star Shania Twain, that was parked in the parking lot of the penitentiary. While the racks on the bus were fine for sleeping, you can imagine it wasn't built to withstand any sort of winds. Consequently, several weeks later when Hurricane Rita rolled through, our team rode that storm out, at, you guessed it: a Waffle House.
Now, more than three times the number of Waffle Houses are closed due to COVID-19 than were during Katrina.
It's truly an unprecedented time.