How to Measure a Hurricane: The Waffle House Index

FEMA's director examines the restaurant's menu as a storm indicator

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Today, The Wall Street Journal's Valerie Bauerlein has a hot new scoop on an alternative storm tracking system used by the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: "The Waffle House Index." When inclement weather hits, the East Coast diner chain implements a color-coded system signaling menu changes. Apparently, Waffle Houses have such a sterling reputation for staying open during extreme weather that when the color coded system turns to red, FEMA pays attention:

Green means the restaurant is serving a full menu, a signal that damage in an area is limited and the lights are on. Yellow means a limited menu, indicating power from a generator, at best, and low food supplies. Red means the restaurant is closed, a sign of severe damage in the area or unsafe conditions.

"If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?" FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has said. "That's really bad. That's where you go to work."

It's not exactly a substitute for the slightly more scientific Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, reports The Journal, but emergency response professionals take it seriously. Apparently, staying open during extreme weather is a key business strategy for Waffle House, which caters to retirees heading south to Florida. Last week, when Hurricane Irene knocked out the power to 22 Waffle Houses across North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, all but one was back in business by Wednesday--some didn't even wait 'til the lights were back on!

Hurricane Irene knocked out power in Weldon, N.C., on Saturday evening, but as the sun rose on this tobacco-farming town at 6:30 the next morning, the local Waffle House, still without electricity, was cooking up scrambled eggs and sausage biscuits.

That's commitment! Check out the full Journal story for more details on Waffle House's business strategy. You'll notice their Waffle House signage isn't quite as battered and broken as the one we dug up.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.