MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

FEMA May Not be Prepared for Hurricane Florence, but Waffle House Is

The "Waffle House Index" shows some differences between the private and public sector when it comes to emergency preparedness.

|||Robwilson39/Dreamstime.comRobwilson39/Dreamstime.comThe "Waffle House Index" has become a key part of storm preparedness: When a Waffle House closes in the face of an impending storm, that's when you really need to be worried.

On Tuesday, the breakfast chain posted a picture of the Waffle House Storm Center monitoring Hurricane Florence, which has been upgraded to a Category 4 and could make landfall as a Category 5. (If so, it will be the first storm of that strength in the southeastern coastal region.) A state of emergency has already been declared in the Carolinas and southern Virginia, and a million people have already evacuated their homes.

But those who chose to stay and prepare for the worst can rely on Waffle House, not just for cheap eggs but for important information about the storm:

As FiveThirtyEight reported in 2016, Waffle House takes its commitment to being open every single hour of the day, every day, very seriously. When a storm is particularly bad, Waffle House provides its employees with a storm manual, which includes instructions on keeping personnel safe and serving up a limited menu of items that can be cooked without power, gas, or water. When a storm is completely devastating, Waffle House will close, usually because the building has been destroyed.

Waffle House's decision to close or remain open also indicates the complexity and length of supply chains for food, fuel, and power. The chain also uses practices like staying close to food depots and having volunteers help keep the restaurants running.

During 2004's Hurricane Charley, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established the color-coordinated Waffle House index: green for operating, yellow for affected, red for destroyed. Disaster responders still use this index to this day.

The Waffle House Index also highlights a stark contrast between the private and public sectors. Even as FEMA takes the index into account, it's highly probable that FEMA itself is not fully prepared for Hurricane Florence. As Reason's Joe Setyon pointed out yesterday, the agency has a long history of giving money to the wrong people, operating with outdated IT systems, and wasting billions on "duplicate payments, unsupported costs, improper contract costs, and unauthorized expenditures." FEMA's own "After-Action Report" concluded that it was unprepared to deal with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which took the lives of nearly 3,000 people.

Photo Credit: Robwilson39/Dreamstime.com

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    I use a different Waffle House Index. Brown is for... let's just say, less than an hour after consuming Waffle House, generally.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    They better not engage in surge pricing.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Even if they do, it will cost you about $6 for breakfast.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    And a show!

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Obligatory: We know it's dirty.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    We also call it Awful House.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    In our little burg, Waffle House was beloved of students and insomniacs because it was the only place you could go to for coffee at 3:00 a.m.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Here is #1 of 23 advisories on the list of "Southern Hospitality Warnings issued by the Southern Tourism Bureau to ALL visiting Northerners and Northeastern Urbanites":

    "Don't order filet mignon at Waffle House. It's just a diner. They serve breakfast 24 hours a day, so let them cook something they know. If you confuse them, they just might kick your ass."

    No, not all of them involve an ass-kicking, but they all mention it.

  • Uncle Jay||

    This is because the Waffle Houses owners around the world have more sense than your average politician.

  • Radioactive||

    a bag of hammers has more sense than your average politician.

  • Radioactive||

    so does a bag of hair

  • damikesc||

    Waffle House is amazing.

    When my area had MASSIVE flooding in 2015 (my home wasn't flooded, but a lot of everything nearby was), they were still open.

    That I also like their food is an added plus, but Waffle House is, for me, the epitome of an American business.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    "...storm manual, which includes instructions on keeping personnel safe and serving up a limited menu of items that can be cooked without power, gas, or water. "

    So how exactly will they be cooking? Do I want to know?

  • losmazeman||

    Wondering the same thing. Any nearby building on fire could be used to cook.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    charcoal /propane grills and/or propane camp stoves.

  • operagost||

    Not going to use charcoal indoors!

  • Johnimo||

    A charcoal grill just outside the back door? Under a hurricane proof tarp(?) I presume. LOL They could use charcoal and propane indoors with adequate ventilation??

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    Residual heat from the flattop.

  • RabbitHead||

    Generators to keep the fridges running (mandatory) can also run toasters and warmers and coffe pots

    Butane-fired catering burners have plenty enough BTUs for eggs and can run indoors without exhaust hoods

    I'm guessing the hoods aren't running on generators. Those fans require quite a bit of electricity.

  • Radioactive||

    what they're cooking is a more appropriate question.

  • Ben of Houston||

    It's an either/or list that's surprisingly long. Without power, they can use a gas range and cook bacon and sausage, and maybe pancakes but not Waffles. If they have power but no gas, then they can make Waffles. I don't know if they have an electric backup or propane grill standard. It wouldn't surprise me.

    Without water, drinks and certain things are off the menu. However, milk and juice are still available, so most menu items can still be made.

  • commentator||

    Yeah that sentence is either just plain wrong or needs editing for clarity badly. NPR wrote about this and said Without natural gas, however, Waffle House is cooked. The restaurants need gas to keep the grills running.

  • Flinch||

    There ought to be a way to cook a sheared egg using gunpowder, but I'm not buying it.

  • Brandybuck||

    As Mike Munger once told me, "You dumb Yank! You don't go to the Waffle House for waffles!"

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Scattered & Smothered, Covered & Chunked.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Just how I like my women.

  • perlchpr||

    Didn't realise there was a market for "post-chipper", but I guess Rule 34 applies to everything...

  • Sevo||

    When FEMA screws up, nobody there suffers.
    WaffleHouse loses money when they do.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    When FEMA screws up, they get more money. FTFY.

  • ||

    I feel a bit bad for FEMA as the lopsided clickbait-y bashing is kinda rampant.

    Waffle House has to serve uncooked Waffles to people in a local neighborhood during a storm, maybe. FEMA has to coordinate rescue efforts across multiple jurisdictions (meaning most of the people aren't metaphorically employed by FEMA in any way), set up and coordinate supply logistics, adjudicate claims and reimbursements, etc., etc.

    Somebody at FEMA leaves a water bottle sitting out for a year and it's an abhorrent waste. Somebody at Waffle House leaves a water bottle sitting out for a year and it's called service.

    I don't like FEMA but, again, the lopsided comparisons feel... forced.

  • JWatts||

    FEMA budget = $13 billion

    Waffle House annual revenue = $1 billion

  • ||

    Waffle House 'territory': South and Midwest
    FEMA Territory: The US, outlying territories

    Waffle House 'market': Lower-to-middle income breakfast consumers
    FEMA 'market': Americans who eat food

  • Lost in the Woods||

    Well, isn't that the point? Waffle House, who's business is cheap breakfast food next to the highway, not disaster relief, still manages to have better forecasting, logistics, etc. than FEMA during a disaster. And their water is theirs to do with as they choose (and very little is wasted). Not stolen from taxpayers and then wasted, in massive quantities, by FEMA.

  • ||

    Not stolen from taxpayers and then wasted, in massive quantities, by FEMA.

    Even as libertarians, I think FEMA is one of the few agencies that we would regard as being legitimate. They don't exactly represent a protracted welfare state, they don't generally act abroad, they don't normally employ force, and, while I admit there is a fair argument to be had or point to be made on this issue, the revenue they collect aren't exactly forced.

    If I need a loan to rebuild my house after a hurricane and my local bank is a pile of rubble, I'm not going to turn to Waffle House no matter how good their forecasting and logistics is. Forecasting and logistics is good and it's great that Waffle House is good at it but it's only a piece of what FEMA does or can do.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Even as libertarians, I think FEMA is one of the few agencies that we would regard as being legitimate.


    I think the evidence is against you here.

  • James Pollock||

    There are "libertarians" for whom "federal" is a four-letter word..

  • ||

    I think the evidence is against you here.

    I think the evidence is circumstantial. You say Reason/libertarians are critical of FEMA, I say they just want the right TOP MEN in charge. The article doesn't contain a whiff of defunding, dismantling, or downsizing FEMA and Reason and civil libertarians in general aren't at all averse to throwing money at poor (brown) people.

  • Trainer||

    FEMA does what all unnecessary government agencies do- they waste a lot of money on inefficient and ineffective programs. If you want to see how to handle a disaster just look at the Cajun navy and all the individuals, churches and legitimate charities that helped out after Harvey. Were they perfect? Was every single need met? No, they did a lot more than FEMA has ever done and they didn't do it with stolen money.

  • QuadGunner||

    Uncooked Waffles? Isn't that just pancake batter?

  • CDRSchafer||

    During Katrina and Puerto Rico FEMA got all the blame. Meanwhile, state and local officials ignored their own emergency plans and basically threw up their hands. The federal government cannot pick up the ball when state and local crap the bed. At least there's hope the federal government will do something right, compared to a state like Louisiana, a city like New Orleans or a place like Puerto Rico.

  • Rorschach||

    As others have already been pointing out at his BS clickbait article, that incompetent TDS-afflicted leftard Eric Boehm (who really should have been fired a long time ago for his incompetence the same as that leftard Journolista infiltrator Weigel) has been caught brazenly lying, trying to blame Trump and FEMA for the local government's screw-ups in Puerto Rico. Fact: Trump and FEMA delivered the goods as promised, as even Puerto Rico's delegate to Congress acknowledged. Quite clearly and unambiguously, Puerto Rico itself is to blame for having failed to distribute the goods due to the corruption and incompetence of its government (and its fool residents who keep voting it back into power).

    Trump is not the Messiah, and it's not his job to save us from ourselves (no matter how many of his over-zealous supporters may wish as much); but how's about concentrating your criticism on the situation at hand and the actual corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats perpetrating these crimes and failures rather than on trying to find some way to blame every bad thing that ever happens, like, EVAR on President Trump?

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    I'll take my hash browns smothered, covered and soaked with sea water.

  • James Phieffer||

    Why doesn't FEMA just contract with Walmart for logistics and provision of supplies? FEMA establishes aid stations and relief centres, and lets Walmart know where and how many people.

    Problems significantly reduced.

  • BadLib||

    You, obviously, don't shop at Walmart. At least their "Neighborhood Market" nearby me is horribly stocked. Much of the time some sections of the store would make a market in a war ravaged country look well stocked.

    For weeks on end, entire product groups will be nearly denuded with no signs of restocking. We are talking pretty common stuff like frozen potatoes (fries, hash browns, etc) and lunch meats. On an individual product level (such as a specific brand/style of yogurt) it's even worse.

    So, no, I wouldn't bet on Walmart.

  • James Pollock||

    "Why doesn't FEMA just contract with Walmart for logistics and provision of supplies?"

    Because the stores are all out of the supplies people need? People need supplies because they can't get them in local stores.

  • DjDiverDan||

    The reason why Waffle House is better prepared than FEMA is very simple. Waffle House, as a privately owned and operated corporation, must operate at a profit. It is rewarded for good decisions and punished for bad decisions by operating losses. FEMA, as a government agency, suffers no consequences for bad decisions. Nobody gets fired, or loses pay, or gets their budget cut for failure. Indeed, the standard response to the failure of any government project is to increase the budget of the responsible agency. "If we just give FEMA more money, maybe they'll do better next time!" Where there are no consequences for failure, where failure is not punished, but rewarded, failure WILL proliferate.

  • No Longer Amused||

    Waffle House has a vested interest in staying open, and takes appropriate measures to do so. FEMA, on the other hand, is just a bunch of government employees that most likely couldn't be fired if they engaged in cannibalism and looting at a disaster site.

  • ||

    FEMA, on the other hand, is just a bunch of government employees that most likely couldn't be fired if they engaged in cannibalism and looting at a disaster site.

    That's how it was during Katrina, right? FEMA swooped in and preyed on the weak while local community leaders and police officers fended them off, delivered supplies, and protected the locals. That's how it's been in PR, right? The local government is so efficient that FEMA can't deliver water and supplies to them fast enough.

    FEMA is a bloated overwrought organization but the false comparisons and obnoxious demonizing isn't really effective at reducing the bloat, doesn't address the issue of natural disasters, and presents a bit of a superficial and callous facade. I don't really think it's bad if you think people who live in the path of a hurricane should be left to their own devices, but I think if a heavy measure of libertopia ensued tomorrow and government were completely funded by voluntary donations, FEMA would find its budget mostly intact with plenty of donors being outright or at least libertarian-leaning.

  • TxJack 112||

    I have to give them credit for using the storm coverage for publicity. However, everyone knows no one chooses to eat at Waffle House, you just end up there and when you do, you are usually drunk.

  • Echospinner||

    Waffle House Index.

    Love that. It makes perfect sense. If Waffle House cannot function it is time to get out or hunker down.

    The CDC has a webpage up for years on preparing for the Zombie apocalypse.

    Banana Dose Equivalent is a legitimate useful metric for estimating radiation exposure.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    "which has been upgraded to a Category 4 and could make landfall as a Category 5. "

    That should have been, "which HAD been"; It's since been dropped to a Category 1, and it's still possible it will be a mere tropical disturbance by the time it makes landfall.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Mind you, Charleston is slated for 4 1/2 inches of rain tomorrow, and Market street floods if there's a heavy fog. So even a category 1 will do some damage.

  • Rorschach||

    I do remember seeing a destroyed Waffle House down in Gulfport, Mississippi when I was doing some mud-out volunteer work down there after Hurricane Katrina. The city had railroad tracks running through it, and there was literally a right side and wrong side of the tracks: most of the damage on the right side of the tracks (which was inland) was relatively minort; over on the wrong side of the tracks (beachfront and everything near it), very nearly everything had been reduced to matchwood. FEMA and the National Guard had even pretty much acknowledged this disparity by setting up the barricades and checkpoints with their razor wire and such (to keep out looters) all along those tracks.

    That destroyed Waffle House was, in fact, right down on the beachfront. Like everything else there, it had been smashed into matchwood when a bunch of cargo barges trapped in the Gulf of Mexico during the storm got flung ashore during the surge, obliterating everything in their path. The funny part was, there on the tiled floor amidst the matchwood and rubble, somebody had actually placed a sign declaring that although this Waffle House was closed for the foreseeable future, it would be reopened as soon as possible.

    I'm not sure which was funnier: that the sign was obviously professionally crafted (and therefore had clearly been prepared well in advance), or that one of the owners or employees had actually had the means and motivation to go place that sign soon after the storm ended.

  • ||

    This company is amazing.

  • UncleSam13||

    Maybe killed 3k. It's a model after all.

  • Flinch||

    Must be all that fully hydrogenated certified artery choke?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online