People are keeping a close eye on Waffle House as Hurricane Florence churns toward the East Coast — and there's a weird reason why

  • Waffle House is known for staying open during many natural disasters.
  • The chain’s policy has provided an unofficial way for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to track the severity of a natural disaster. If a Waffle House closes, it suggests the event was bad enough to potentially have devastating effects on the economy.
  • Waffle House has not said whether it will close restaurants during Hurricane Florence.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has an unusual way to track the severity of a natural disaster, and it involves Waffle House restaurants.

The chain, whose restaurants are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is famous for staying open during many natural disasters. When it closes, that suggests an event was especially bad and likely to have devastating effects on the economy.

Because of this, FEMA internally uses an unofficial “Waffle House Index” to track potentially dangerous events.

“If a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green,” a 2011 article in the magazine EHS Today says. “If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red.”

This doesn’t just show FEMA how quickly a business might rebound, it also shows it how the larger community is doing.

“The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signalling a stronger recovery for that community,”FEMA said in a blog post in 2011.

“If we are open quickly after the storm broke, that means the community is coming back and we are getting back to that sense of normalcy,” Pat Warner, director or PR at Waffle House, said in an interview on CNN on Wednesday.

Waffle House said on Twitter that its “Storm Center” was monitoring Hurricane Florence, which is expected to hit the coast between North Carolina and South Carolina late Thursday or early Friday and could impact 230 of its restaurants.

The company is advising people to look for updates on Twitter.

“Since it is a pretty active storm, just stay tuned to our @wafflehousenews Twitter, official announcements will be made there,” it tweeted on Wednesday morning.

A representative for Waffle House did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. A customer-service assistant said that the company had not yet confirmed whether stores will close.

Waffle House has 2,100 restaurants across 25 states, most of which are in the South. It closed locations during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Harvey last year.

Warner told CNN that Waffle House prepares for a storm’s aftermath by having resources like generators, food, and staff at the ready outside (but close to) the impacted area so that it can reopen restaurants as soon as possible.

Hurricane Florence has been designated a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. It would be the first hurricane of this strength to hit North Carolina since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

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