FEMA Describes How Waffle Houses Are Used To Determine The Severity Of Natural Disasters
(Julie Dermansky/Corbis via Getty Images)

Hurricane Florence is currently battering the coast of North Carolina, bringing with it a storm surge over 10 feet high and winds averaging 100 miles an hour.

This might surprise many of you, but Waffle House––that's right, Waffle House, everyone's favorite 24-hour diner––is well versed in risk management, and the Waffle House "Index" has proven itself a valuable resource for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The company even has a Storm Center!

FEMA has been able to gauge a storm's path of destruction because Waffle House, a Georgia-based conglomerate with more than 1,500 locations, tends to be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year––even during severe and inclement weather. Suffice it to say that if a Waffle House location is actually closed, you might not want to be in the area.

The test was devised in 2011 by the agency's director, W. Craig Fugate, to determine the extent of a hurricane's impact on local communities.

"If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad," Fugate told NPR in 2016. "We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow. If the Waffle House is open, everything's good."

FEMA expands on this in a blog post on its official website, writing, "The Waffle House test just doesn't tell us how quickly a business might rebound — it also tells how the larger community is faring."Here's a look at the flood as a result of the massive rainfalls carried by the monster hurricane."

Speaking to CNN, Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner said that the idea first came to Fugate after a rather eventful 2004 Florida hurricane season.

"If we are open quickly after the storm, that means the community is coming back and folks are out, we are getting back to that sense of normalcy," Warner told journalist Brooke Baldwin. "After a storm, they're really looking to us to be there to help them out because they're used to us being there the rest of the year."

Panos Kouvelis, the Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management and director of the Olin's Boeing Center for Technology, Information and Manufacturing, told EHS Today that the Waffle House index rarely hits red because of the establishment's preparation experience during natural disasters.

"These companies have many stores in the southern part of the United States that are frequently exposed to hurricanes," Kouvelis explained. "They have good risk management plans in place and are great examples of how their supply chains get affected in two different ways."

For example, a Waffle House in Joplin, Missouri, managed to remain open despite a particularly devastating tornado that ravaged the area in 2011.

Kouvelis said the chain, once it learns which areas are affected by storms, can determine which employees can or cannot show up for work accordingly.

"They know immediately which stores are going to be affected and they call their employees to know who can show up and who cannot," he said. "They have temporary warehouses where they can store food and most importantly, they know they can operate without a full menu. This is a great example of a company that has learned from the past and developed an excellent emergency plan."

Waffle House's dedication to the communities it serves––many of these are along the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast––has impressed many a customer.

Kudos to Waffle House's social media manager. If you're in Florence-affected areas, follow @WaffleHouseNews for all updates related to storm conditions. And even if you're not, follow them anyway. This is valuable information that we could all benefit from.

Waffles save lives.

Leslie Knope on 'Parks and Recreation.'Tenor.com (moebanks)

H/T - EHS Today, Twitter, CNN