How Waffle House Helps Measure the Severity of a Natural Disaster


There are a lot of ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assesses and addresses the severity of a natural disaster. Meteorology can predict movement patterns, wind gusts, and precipitation. Resources are dispatched to areas hit hardest by torrential weather.

But when the agency needs an accurate, ground-level gauge for how a community is coping during a crisis, they turn to Waffle House.

Since 2004, FEMA has utilized what former administrator Craig Fugate called the “Waffle House Index.” Because the casual dining chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tracking to see if a location is closed or working with limited supplies can help inform the agency as to whether affected areas are ailing or taking steps toward normalcy.

“If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad,” Fugate told NPR in 2011. “We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow ... If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the bad stuff yet.”

For FEMA, the ability to order a plate of smothered and covered hash browns is an important analytic. If a Waffle House is having trouble getting stock, then transportation has been interrupted. If the menu is limited, then it’s possible they have some utilities but not others. If its locations have locked their doors, inclement weather has taken over. The chain’s locations would normally stay open even in severe conditions to help first responders.

The company has opened a Waffle House Storm Center to gather data in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, a Category 2 storm expected to touch down in the Carolinas this week. But not all locations are taking a wait-and-see approach. One Waffle House in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has already closed due to the looming threat, making it the first red dot on the Index.

[h/t CNN]

See What Hurricane Florence Looks Like From Space

NASA via Getty Images
NASA via Getty Images

As Hurricane Florence continues to creep its way toward the Carolinas, it’s repeatedly being described as both "the storm of the century” and "the storm of a lifetime” for parts of the coastlines of North and South Carolina. While that may sound like hyperbole to some, Alexander Gerst—an astronaut with the European Space Agency—took to Twitter to prove otherwise with a few amazing photos, and issued a warning to “Watch out, America!”

According to the National Weather Service, “Hurricane Florence will be approaching the Carolina shores as the day progresses on Thursday. Although the exact timing, location, and eventual track of Florence isn't known, local impacts will likely begin in the afternoon hours and only worsen with time throughout the evening and overnight period.”

On Tuesday, Wilmington, North Carolina's National Weather Service took the warning even one step further, writing: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew. I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm.”

Gerst’s photos certainly drive that point home.

Simple Steps to Keep Your Pets Safe Following a Natural Disaster


Even if you don’t live in an area that’s prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, or tornadoes, it’s still wise to have a disaster response strategy in place—and to make sure it includes plans for any pets you have at home.

While most people would do everything in their power to avoid abandoning their pet, it's not unusual for animals to flee or get separated from their owners in the chaos surrounding a severe weather event. According to, the Louisiana SPCA estimated that about 15,500 animals needed to be rescued during Hurricane Katrina and, of those, 80 to 85 percent were never found by their owners.

But as Dr. Brian Beale of Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists pointed out in an interview with National Geographic, there are several steps you can take to improve your chances of finding and reuniting with your pets.

First, be sure to microchip and register your pets with a national database. In most cases, microchip implants can be done at your local vet, animal shelter, or rescue group, and the procedure is quick, simple, and painless. When you’re ready to register your pet—and this step is crucial—fill out the enrollment forms provided by your vet or clinic, or check out the Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool for more information.

This may seem like a given, but you should also make sure your pet is wearing a collar containing their name, as well as your name, address, and phone number, Beale recommends. Once you’ve ticked that item off your to-do list, make sure you have current photos of your pets on hand. That way, if you do get separated, you can enlist others to help you find your pets again.

For more tips, check out National Geographic’s video below.

[h/t National Geographic]