Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Waffle House Index

If you read Bob's Cluttered desk, you might think that the Waffle House Index has something to do with violence, controversy, or worse. If you live in the south, you know Waffle House. If you know Waffle House, you know not to try ordering french fries; Waffle House has hash browns, and as Larry the Cable Guy says, "you're a Communist if you don't eat it smothered and covered."

You may not know Waffle House, having never spent time in the south. Or, you may be one of those healthy folks that decries fried food and thus avoids the fare. I was introduced to Waffle House when I drove through the night one Thanksgiving to visit an injured friend in the south. After exiting the interstate three times to be disappointed by well lit but closed fast food joints, I finally ate at Waffle House (of which there had been one at two of the four total exits chosen). See, Waffle House is open 24/7/365, and for the most part they will cook you whatever you want, whenever you want it. 

In addition to these significant cultural contributions, Waffle House has contributed to the subject of crisis management. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is likely to be the first federal government "boots-on-the-ground" following any disaster. They are often preceded by the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or a van full of volunteers from a church. But as far as federal relief, FEMA is probably there first. Some take comfort in that more than others. 

So, what do Waffle House and FEMA have in common? This is the part where Bob Wilson's sense of humor would likely flourish, or perhaps run amok, like two people fighting over dishwashing privileges. No, FEMA has to some extent adopted the Waffle House disaster response process as a measuring stick of just "how bad is it." As mentioned, Waffle House is always open. And from that business model came the Waffle House Index adopted informally by FEMA. 

According to Wikipedia (a reliable and authoritative source according to the Florida First District Court, see Trejo-Perez v. Arry's Roofing, 141 So.3d 220 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014)), the Waffle House index is used by FEMA to measure "the effect of a storm and the likely scale of assistance required for disaster recovery." Waffle House, it seems, has a reputation for only closing in the most dire of circumstances, and reopening rapidly thereafter. And so, an administrator of FEMA once observed on arriving after a disaster "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That's really bad. That's when you go to work."

From that observation, FEMA developed a three-level index to measure the severity of a disaster. According to Wikipedia, they are:
Green: the restaurant is serving a full menu, indicating the restaurant has power and damage is limited.
Yellow: the restaurant is serving a limited menu, indicating there may be no power or only power from a generator or food supplies may be low.
Red: the restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage.
This index came to my attention last year when it was featured in the Washington Post following Hurricane Matthew's meandering up the east coast. The Post described the Waffle House Index, and then described the efforts to evacuate Florida ahead of that particular storm. It says that Weathermen declared it "a storm like no other," that "millions along the East Coast were instructed to evacuate," and that the Governor said "this storm will kill you.” That all seems clear enough? But Floridians did not flee. 

Then came the ultimate warning, Waffle Houses "between Titusville, Fla. and Fort Pierce, Fla. are closed." What? Waffle House is closed? The Post quoted a tweet that summarized this information exchange and decision-making process
News: “Evacuate Florida”
Floridians: “Nah”
News: “Waffle House closed”
As Larry the Cable Guy would say, "I don't care who you are, that's funny right there." 

The critical points to all of this are pretty simple. 

First, when the Governor tells you to leave, it is probably pretty good advice. The idea is to get you out of harms way. 

Second, planning for a disaster or business interruption is a great idea. Those that deal with disasters appreciate and respect the effort that goes into disaster awareness and preparedness. They plan now for what could happen later.

Third, despite all the planning and resources imaginable, even the most prepared might not be open during and immediately after a storm. There may be supply issues, utility issues, and more. 

And finally, while I am not sure it has anything to do with politics ("communist") as Larry suggests, you gotta try 'em "scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced, and topped" (onions, cheese, ham, chili, sausage gravy, diced tomatoes and jalapeno peppers) next time you're at the Waffle House, after a storm. And then see your cardiologist. 

But, before you return home after that storm evacuation, you might just call and see if they are answering the phone at your local Waffle House. Good information to have. 

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