The Waffle House Index is an economic indicator informally used by FEMA.
Waffle House has a reputation for riding out natural disasters, including by staying open even when the power is out. In areas struck by Hurricane Harvey this week, the chain has just three of its stores shut as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Pat Warner, a representative for the company.Another 43 stores in the region remain open, with a few having reopened their doors in the last few days after being briefly shuttered.
The chain's willingness to keep its doors open in the face of disaster is well known among employees of the Federal Emergency Management Administration or FEMA. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal quoted FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate as saying that, "if you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That's really bad."
It can even keep its doors open without power — offering a limited menu. Warner told NPR this week that it also moves staff from other states to cover for employees stranded by a storm. It can make Waffle House the only source of a meal for people in a Hurricane-struck area.
The Journal described this as a marketing strategy built "around the goodwill gained from being open when customers are most desperate."
Harvey arrived on the shores of Texas as a hurricane Friday night, packing sustained winds as high as 130 miles per hour. As of Wednesday, Harvey was classified as a tropical storm with maximum winds of 40 mph.
Earlier this week, Warner said that eight of the stores in the region were shut because of issues with flooding and access.