Is the “Waffle House Index” real?

Dear Tom,
I just read a book set in Florida that refers to the “Waffle House index” to gauge hurricane damage. Is this real?
Scott Bently Woodstock
Dear Scott,
Absolutely! The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does use information from several national chains to help determine just how hard an area has been impacted by a weather event. The Waffle House, a restaurant that is open 24/7, is one of them. The chain prides itself on remaining open following natural disasters, which requires a lot of advance planning by the company’s management, so if a Waffle House is closed, conditions in that area must be really bad. During Houston’s encounter with Harvey, some Waffle Houses had to shut down, but the vast majority stayed open, albeit with a somewhat limited menu. The term Waffle House Index was first coined by FEMA Director W. Craig Fugate in 2011.

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