By Derrek J. Hull, Blogger-in-Chief
What sounds like a child sorting Halloween hard candies this year doubles as something a bit more important to state and federal disaster-management officials: the Waffle House Index for Hurricane Sandy.
Two Waffle Houses near Allentown, Pa., were closed, and two in Maryland were open but serving a limited menu, according to Waffle House spokesperson Kelly Thrasher. All were without electricity; the open ones had gas and water. At this time, all four restaurants are open on generator power, with fully restored power soon.
Thrasher summarized the Index: when an official phones a Waffle House and the restaurant is open and serving the full menu, the index is Green. When the restaurant is open but serving a limited menu, it's yellow. When it's closed, it's red.
Federal Emergency Management Administration head Craig Fugate devised the index after leading Florida's response to several hurricanes in the 2000s. Based on the 24-hour restaurant chain's hardy reputation and presence across the Southeast, it is an informal yet handy way to assess an area's post-calamity condition.
This allows officials to do quick disaster-relief triage: red areas need help first, and fast.
In addition, the company was "definitely proactive" before Sandy hit, Thrasher said. They tracked the storm all last week and sent an advance team pre-landfall with extra supplies and employees.
Waffle House has a mobile command center that is deployed to the impact area usually a day before the storm hits. A team will then set up just outside the predicted impact zone so that they can quickly access the area post-disaster to help assess any power outages or damage.
“It is important for us to get open quickly after a storm or an event like this so that the community is encouraged. When businesses start to reopen it brings a sense of normalcy back to the community, customers and employees,” said Thrasher.
She called the attention "very flattering," but added: "This is what we do all the time: to be there for our customers and associates on an everyday basis."
Waffle House received the National Restaurant Association’s inaugural Operator Innovations Award in the Food Safety category at its 2012 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in May in Chicago. The restaurant chain was recognized for its efforts to work closely with FEMA and state emergency management agencies as an active private-sector partner when responding to natural disasters.
A call to FEMA went unreturned. Perhaps they were busy calling Waffle House.