PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Over the last several days, Waffle House, the restaurant famous for breakfast and always being open, has become a hot topic on social media.
Most versions of the reference go like this: “I’ll know Hurricane Ian will be an issue if The Waffle House closes.”
Waffle House officials caution that residents should pay close attention to their local leaders and evacuate based on those recommendations. However, the restaurant really has become shorthand at the highest levels of the American government for predicting how bad a disaster will be or how much damage a disaster has done to a community.
The Waffle House Index became famous in weather circles after a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator described it to the media in 2004.
“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
According to several media reports, the index ranges from green to yellow to red. Yellow means the restaurants are on a limited menu and lack resources. Red means restaurants are closed.
Because Waffle House has a reputation for staying open through most serious weather events or reopening quickly, a closed restaurant is a sure sign that FEMA, The National Guard, and other responders need to get to the area as soon as possible.
While noting that it was Fugate and not Waffle House itself that created the index, officials with the company have embraced the situation.
“We’re pretty proud of the fact that it is something that is used,” said Njeri Boss, vice president of public relations, Waffle House, Inc. “More so because it is an outward showing of our commitment to the communities we serve.”
Anytime a hurricane heads to a location Waffle House serves, the company’s crisis response team springs into action, working with employees before the storm and helping them get back to work, if they can, after the disaster.
“We want to be there to support the community,” Boss said. That means feeding residents and first responders something more than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Boss added.
She added that when a Waffle House reopens, it helps an area return to a “sense of normalcy.”
“It’s all about our community,” Boss said.