In the wake of Hurricane Irma, many Floridians are turning to Waffle House, as one of the few places to get a cup of coffee or a cell phone charge. But as the state begins rebuilding, the restaurant is taking on an even greater significance.
If your local Waffle House is open after the storm, your community is probably in pretty good shape. And for the 24/7 breakfast chain, that’s no coincidence.
FEMA actually tracks the restaurant’s closures as a way to gauge how bad a storm was. It’s called the Waffle House Index. Company spokesman Pat Warner explains.
“Craig Fugate, the former FEMA administrator, actually when he was head of the Florida Emergency Management, he coined the Waffle House Index for Florida," Warner said. “Basically he would tell his people, drive to the first Waffle House that’s closed, because you know that’s where the damage is the worst."
He says Waffle House pours resources into its emergency response team. They ship in extra supplies before and after storms, and even send in managers from out of state to takeover.
Warner says for many customers, Waffle Houses are a sign of normalcy. And the company is invested in maintaining that.
“Outside of Tampa and Sarasota, where our associates were at the restaurants, waiting for us to get them open, because they want to get them open for their customers. So they take that responsibility seriously too because they want to be there for their customers, because it’s their community! They want to get their community back. And they know if we can get the restaurant open it’s a good first step to getting the community back to normal,” Warner said.
At peak Irma damage, Waffle House closed 85 of its Florida locations, mainly south of I-4.
“The Orlando, Tampa, Daytona south, we’ve had more issues, mainly with power outages. But we do have some restaurants open in Orlando, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale. Typically the ones north of I-4, the Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Lake City, those are pretty much all open,” Warner said.
In the aftermath, the restaurants mainly rely on local power, not generators. So when your local Waffle House is back online, you’ll know your utilities are in good shape too.