Waffle House Index CODE RED: Coronavirus Forces Hundreds of Locations Across Country to Close

waffle house index coronavirus

Waffle House Index March 24, 2020, showing 365 locations closed nationwide. Image via Waffle House on Facebook.

Here’s how you know the coronavirus pandemic is really serious: Waffle House is closed.

On Tuesday, the company announced on their Facebook page that they were closing an unprecedented 365 locations nationwide — over three times more than were closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The other 1,627 locations remain open, for now.

The 24-hour restaurant chain famous for their “scattered, smothered, & covered” hash browns and, of course, waffles, has a well-established reputation of weathering the storm — literally.

About a decade ago, Craig Fugate, who was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator at the time, started using a “Waffle House Index” as an informal metric to assess how well a community was functioning and recovering after a natural disaster like a hurricane. Waffle House was a convenient business to study because of their locations spread through 25 states, concentrated in the Southeast where hurricanes frequently occur.

Waffle House has also developed robust risk management and disaster response plans, including trained “Waffle House jump teams” with mobile command center vehicles to help stores quickly spring back into action after the winds die down and instructions for limited menu options in case of disruptions in their power or supply chain.

The phrase caught on and has become part of the national lexicon regarding disaster response, even though Fugate is no longer heading up FEMA.

Waffle House Index Green means a location has power and is open, with a full menu. Yellow means the Waffle House is open but has no power or power only with a generator, and so is offering a limited menu that they can cook on natural gas grills.

Red means closed — and it’s a rare state indeed for a Waffle House.

Closing 365 Waffle Houses previously seemed unimaginable.

The EF5 tornado (a rating assigned for winds over 200 mph) that devastated Joplin, Missouri in 2011 killed over 150 people, injured over a thousand more, and caused over $2.8 billion in damages.

Both of the town’s Waffle Houses remained open.

Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida as a Category 4 storm in 2017, was the previous record holder for Waffle House Index Red, closing 157 locations. The runner up was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, closing 107 Waffle Houses.


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