Waffle House closures signal Hurricane Ian’s danger

Why the government turns to Waffle House when tracking emergencies

Waffle House’s recent announcement that it was temporarily shuttering at least 21 of its Florida restaurants ahead of Hurricane Ian making landfall on Wednesday afternoon is another indicator of the storm’s magnitude.

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The little-known “Waffle House Index” is reportedly one of the many ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency tracks approaching storms and other emergencies.

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Basically, according to Marketplace’s Elly Yu, because many Waffle House locations are in states vulnerable to hurricanes and other tornadoes, and because WaHo “prides itself” on being open all of the time, FEMA reckons things must be very bad when the restaurant acquiesces to the weather.

The index has three colors, just like a stop light. “Green means the restaurant is open as usual, yellow means it’s on a limited menu, and red means the restaurant’s closed,” Yu wrote.

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“It just doesn’t happen where Waffle House is normally shut down,” Philip Strouse, FEMA’s private sector liaison for the Southeast, told Markeplace in 2015. “They’re the canary in the coal mine, if you will.”

He added that the index "gives us a pretty good feel right away of what's going on at what time."

Waffle House officials said disaster preparedness is a major part of their ethic, including plans to rent generators as needed and a pared-down menu for efficiency.