Reports from Hurricane Florence are still coming in. It's going to be a long time before anyone knows the full extent of the damage. While here in East Texas we haven't experienced anything with that level of devastation, Dallas residents currently experience flooding after heavy rain and a cold front.

Have you ever wondered how emergency services differentiate between a major inconvenience and a national disaster? One way the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) monitors actually uses the food chain Waffle House.

Waffle House and Weather Disaster

Seriously. FEMA uses Waffle House locations to determine whether or not a storm is a disaster. There's an actual index based around the restaurant chain.

Waffle House has more than 1,500 locations throughout the southern United States. They're open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. They don't close for Christmas or New Years.

However, since many of them are along the Gulf Coast, sometimes weather makes them shut down their waffle irons and shelve their hashed browns. If a hurricane, tropical storm or torrential flood sweeps through an area, even the Waffle House has to close.

Waffle House Index Color Scale

Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate created the Waffle House Index with the following stages:

  • Green -- The location is open and the full menu is available.
  • Yellow -- The doors are open, but there's a limited menu due to outside influences.
  • Red -- The Waffle House is closed.

Hurricane Harvey's storm surge caused two Waffle House locations in the Houston area to close, but many remained open. In 2016, the index hit red when all the chain's locations on Florida's I-95 closed due to Hurricane Matthew.

Waffle House has a disaster playbook that helps locations make decisions based on the potential for disaster. They have protocols for how to keep cooking if the power goes out or water is temporarily unavailable. One manager told NPR sometimes the menu stays simple. "To be honest, we just cook bacon and eggs. But sometimes you need bacon and eggs."