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No, the ‘Waffle House Index’ is not an official FEMA policy

During extreme weather, some people rely on whether Waffle House is open to determine the severity of the storm. But it’s not an official government measurement.

Hurricane season begins on June 1 and lasts through November 30. 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this year forecasters are predicting 12 to 17 total named storms – which are storms with winds of 39 mph or higher. Of those, five to nine could become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes. 

There are different ways to measure the strength of a storm, or how a community is faring during and after a storm. The Waffle House Index is one way that some people measure the severity of a storm. If the local Waffle House is open, that likely means the damage is limited or a storm won’t be as bad. If it’s closed, that’s a bad sign. 

VERIFY viewers reached out to ask if Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policy takes into consideration the  restaurant chain’s response.


Is the ‘Waffle House Index’ an official FEMA policy?



This is false.

No, the ‘Waffle House Index’ is not an official FEMA policy.


Waffle House has a reputation for not only staying open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but also for staying open during extreme weather. The restaurant chain beefed up their crisis management plan after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which knocked out power and caused stores to close, Waffle House says

After Katrina, executives developed disaster preparedness manuals for their restaurants. They also purchased portable generators and portable mobile command centers to help their restaurants stay open during a disaster. Because of their preparedness for extreme weather conditions, communities often look at Waffle House to gauge how an area is faring during and after a storm, unofficially called the ‘Waffle House Index.’

According to Waffle House’s website, there are three color-coded levels of the so-called index: 

  • Green means the restaurant has a full menu, a signal that damage in an area is limited and the lights are on.
  • Yellow means there is a limited menu, indicating power is running from a generator, at best, and there are low food supplies.
  • Red means the restaurant is closed, a sign of severe damage in the area or unsafe conditions.

But, it’s not an official unit for measuring a weather event’s severity.

According to a now-deleted 2011 blog post from FEMA, Craig Fugate, who was the head of FEMA under the Obama administration, was the one who began using Waffle House as an unofficial measure of disaster. 

He started using it to “determine how quickly a community might be able to get up and running again after a disaster.”

“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?” Fugate said, quoted in the Waffle House blog post. “That’s really bad.”

FEMA’s official metric during a disaster is known as the lifelines construct.

According to FEMA, the lifelines-driven response is how incident responders determine the condition, establish priorities, organize lines of effort and response. Here is a chart from FEMA:

Credit: FEMA
FEMA’s official metric during a disaster is known as the lifelines construct.

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