FEMA's 'Waffle House Index' Rates Moore, Oklahoma, At Disaster Level Yellow

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Moore, Okla., is currently running at Waffle House Index Level Yellow, and that’s not a joke. Craig Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has created his own informal system of rating disasters in a humanizing way, using the status of the local Waffle House as a measure of the impact of a natural disaster on a region or neighborhood. And if that sounds patronizing or nonsensical, read on, because it makes a lot of sense.

After a disaster--especially one of the magnitude of a Hurricane Katrina or the tornado that struck the southern Oklahoma City metro area on Monday--it takes a while to really gauge the state of things on the ground and to assess the overall level of damage. There are aerial photos of the devastation, sure, as well as anecdotal accounts of what’s happening on one block or the next, but a snapshot of the real impact on a community is hard to come by until an official accounting of the damage--both human and economic--can be made. And that takes a while.

Then there’s Waffle House. Waffle House is known--along with Home Depot, Wal Mart, and Lowe’s--for its resiliency during and in the days following a disaster. The company maintains pretty serious disaster planning year-round, as it sees itself and the service it provides--hot meals and hot coffee for first responders and affected members of the community--as important for helping communities get back on their feet. As such, Waffle House takes pride in its ability to remain open, or to quickly reopen, after disaster strikes a region. Fugate allegedly first used the phrase back in 2011 following the Joplin, Mo., tornado, stating to the Wall Street Journal that if you arrive at a place and the Waffle House is closed, you know the disaster is bad.