Waffle House Disaster Recovery Index

September 21, 2019
Waffle House Disaster Recovery Index

Waffle House views disaster recovery as an important part of its business.  The company believes that having a Waffle House restaurant open after a disaster helps the community.

Part of it is the customers that are used to Waffle House being open 24/7/365.  The restaurant being open gives people a sense of normalcy in a crisis.  Additionally, it’s for employees (which Waffle House calls associates).  If the locations aren’t open, employees aren’t making a living.  As a result, Waffle House strives to keep restaurants open, or to re-open them as quickly as possible.

To accomplish this, Waffle House creates a storm center in preparation for a disaster.  At their headquarters, a conference room is turned into an operations center.  A team that includes engineers, restaurant operators, food safety experts, and a meteorologist work together to adjust their plan to quickly re-open restaurants.

In the field, Jump Teams are ready to deploy to assist restaurants that have been hit by a storm.  These teams include construction workers, restaurant operators, and food providers.  The Jump Teams can be quickly deployed to get the restaurant up and running.  If needed, they bring generators to the restaurant.

Waffle House has been so effective in the southeast at re-opening its restaurants that many government agencies use the Waffle House to determine the degree of a storm’s impact.  Craig Fugate, former director of FEMA, originated the Waffle House Index.  Specifically, it is used to help determine the needs of the area.

  • If the Waffle House is open, then there is minimal damage.  It is classified as a green light–help not needed.
  • If the Waffle House is open with a limited menu, then there is some damage.  This is classified as a yellow light—look closely, some help might be needed.
  • However, if the Waffle House is closed, then there is substantial damage.  It is classified as a red light—help needed.

Video Spotlight: Waffle House CEO explains origin of FEMA’s ‘Waffle House Index’


This post is based on the USA Today article, ‘Waffle House Index’ is a real thing during disasters. How does the restaurant chain do it?, by Annie Blanks, September 1, 2019, and the YouTube video, Waffle House CEO explains origin of FEMA’s ‘Waffle House Index’, by CNBC Television, September 13, 2018. Image source: Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Discussion Questions:

1. Should organizations prepare for disasters?

Guidance: Approximately 25% of businesses do not re-open after a disaster.  Having a preparedness plan in place before a disaster occurs will greatly improve the organization re-opening, and speed-up this process.

Having a preparedness plan in place with the necessary equipment and supplies requires investing in the plan.  Many organizations don’t want to invest the time and money in a plan that they hope will never be executed.  Waffle House is somewhat unique in having plans in place, and wanting to re-open as soon as possible after a disaster.

2. What characteristics help Waffle House re-open quickly?

Guidance: Waffle House processes are highly standardized.  If someone has managed one Waffle House restaurant, they can manage a different Waffle House without much adjustment.  The same concept applies to other workers at Waffle House.  Their preparedness planning, and having equipment and personnel available to assist in re-opening restaurants, helps as well.

3. What operations management techniques are used in disaster preparedness planning?

Guidance: Re-opening a store or restaurant is a project.  As a result, project management is the most appropriate technique.  Hurricanes are unique in that you typically have a short time window to adjust your plan as the projected position and timing of land fall changes.  This would make agile project management techniques especially useful.

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