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The 'Waffle House Index': FEMA Impressed By Chain's Disaster Preparedness

Waffle House Hurricane

First Posted: 09/01/11 07:06 PM ET Updated: 11/01/11 06:12 AM ET

Many people think that the official motto of US Postal Service begins "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night," and testifies to the dauntless of mailmen. In fact, the Postal Service has no motto -- meaning the statement of purpose is free for others to use as their own. HuffPost Food would like to suggest an unlikely taker: Waffle House.

According to the Wall Street Journal's Valerie Bauerline, the 62-year-old Southern food chain has a longstanding reputation for staying open during natural disasters. And if a storm is too intense to stay open straight through the worst of it, Waffle House has especially strong protocols for getting back online quickly. Bauerline explains:

Its hurricane playbook explains how to reopen a restaurant and what to serve if there is gas but no electricity, or a generator but no ice. An important element is limiting the menu so the company's supply chain can focus on keeping certain items stocked and chilled or frozen.

Waffle House's tenacity and preparedness are so watertight that FEMA Director Craig Fugate has joked that he watches a "Waffle House Index" of disaster magnitude. He can tell how bad a disaster's been by how much of its menu Waffle House is serving. EHS Today specifies the exact parameters of the index, which gained credence when Washington University Business professor Panos Kouvelis conducted a study on the subject:

For example, 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, Kouvelis said, it’s rare for the index to hit red. For example, the Joplin, Mo., Waffle House survived the tornado and remained open.

As FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate explained to the Wall Street Journal, "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That's really bad. That's where you go to work."

The only other chains with comparable disaster management are Wal Mart, Lowe's and the Home Depot -- none of which serve pork chops or hash browns topped with chili.

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Filed by Joe Satran  |