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Well, they finally did it. Waffle House, which is known to stay open even in the wake of natural disasters, has closed down their locations in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City and Panama City Beach, Florida ahead of Hurricane Michael. The Southern restaurant, as silly as it sounds, is actually one of the many tools the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) use to rank the severity of a storm.

The Waffle House Index was created by former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. The index is simple to follow. If Waffle House is open and running the index is green. If the restaurant is open but serving a limited menu, the index is yellow. And if the restaurant closes completely the index is red, meaning that the storm is going to be a big one because Waffle House is always well-prepared for disasters.

Ryan Kruger, a reporter for television station WXIA in Atlanta was in Panama City Beach when he saw the closed down Waffle House. “I don’t know if I’ve seen that in my entire life,” Kruger said, “The restaurant that never closes is officially closed.”

Ryan Kruger shared on his Facebook page a video showing the hurricane shuttered restaurant.

Pat Warner, a representative from Waffle House shares that 18 locations were closed as of Wednesday morning along the Florida panhandle.

Waffle House restaurants have been working with FEMA for years. Waffle House CEO Walter Ehmer, who was in Myrtle Beach during hurricane Florence, shares that back in 2012, “Within hours of Hurricane Irene making landfall, our Chairman & CEO, two Executive Vice Presidents, a subsidiary President, our CFO and I were all on site managing the emergency from the front lines.”

The restaurant chain stages some supplies and sends additional manpower to areas ahead of the hurricane. Ehmer is quick to point out that the people making the decisions are on the ground rather than back at their corporate office.

FEMA uses the Waffle House Index not to see when the waffles will be baking again but rather to see how quickly a business might rebound after a natural disaster. It also tells how the larger community is faring. The sooner restaurants and grocery stores can open, the sooner local economies can gain their footing. And the sooner we can go back to enjoying pecan waffles.

Watch: The Waffle House Index: Metric for Disaster

Lyndsay Burginger is a food and lifestyle writer as well as the Managing Editor of Wide Open Eats. Lyndsay has worked for companies such as America's Test Kitchen and Disney, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Culinary Arts. When she's not writing or cooking you can find Lyndsay traveling ...Read more
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