Is Waffle House open? How restaurant specializing in breakfast food works with FEMA during disasters like Hurricane Ian

WASHINGTON– When it comes to disaster relief, FEMA has an unlikely ally: Waffle House.

Before, during and after a natural disaster like Hurricane Ian, the agency reaches out to private sector partners like Waffle House to determine how businesses in affected areas are doing. When Waffle House restaurants (which are typically open 24 hours a day) are forced to close down in a disaster area, it bodes well that the community may need more robust disaster relief services.

Eleven locations in Florida’s mandatory evacuation zones were closed ahead of Hurricane Ian.

Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the term originated during Hurricane Charley in 2004.

He was director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, and he and his colleagues discovered that the last places left open were waffle houses.

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Fugate, who led FEMA for eight years, is known for his Waffle House Matrix, which was used internally to measure how restaurants are doing: stores that are open and offering a full menu are green, stores that are are open and offering a limited menu are yellow and stores that are closed are red.

How a company like Waffle House, which has its own storm center that it activates when needed, plans for a natural disaster isn’t all that different from how a government agency would plan for the same event.

“There is logistical planning to get additional supplies and labor to an affected area immediately after a storm, but it’s our show that separates us from other companies,” Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer wrote in a FEMA Blog post about the company’s response to Hurricane Irene. “Our planning prepares us for the storm, and once the storm has passed our managers can see what’s going on in the area and respond immediately in the event of an emergency.”

While Waffle House might be the agency’s best-known partner, FEMA said in 2017 that it has similar relationships with a variety of other private-sector partners, including Target, Walmart, Wegmans, Macy’s, Walgreens, Lowes, and Safeway.

Before a storm hits, FEMA works with companies on a storm’s path while they develop their own relief plans.

“Businesses in communities are often among the biggest drivers of recovery. When shops can open, people can go back to work. Getting people back to work can return them to at least some part of a normal life — and that little bit of normality can make a big difference,” FEMA’s Jessica Stapf said of the agency’s response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017 Is Waffle House open? How restaurant specializing in breakfast food works with FEMA during disasters like Hurricane Ian

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