How Waffle House Changes the Way America Responds to Emergencies

Every government has its secrets. For America, there is a suspicious relationship between the Waffle House restaurant chain and our disaster relief programs.

Background on Waffle House

For the uninitiated — Waffle House is a restaurant chain located in the American South. They serve a diverse menu of waffles, omelettes, and steaks. But, the most unique part of a Waffle House is always its presentation. Most food establishments strive for quality and clean facilities. Waffle House offers neither. Just look at this esteemed review from tripadvisor.com user MissM5553:

We recently stopped at Waffle House in Grove City for breakfast. We had done so before, and had good food and service. Not so anymore. The place was filthy! Especially behind the counter which was in our view. Dirty dishes everywhere, floors covered with trash, wastebasket overflowing. The worst thing we saw however, was the fact that the refrigerator where food for prep was kept, did not close properly and every time the cook would reach in to get eggs, bacon, or whatever, the door stayed open! I have written to their headquarters as this used to be a clean nice little restaurant and has turned into a filthy mess.

This is actually par for the course with Waffle House. What MissM5553 did not seem to understand was that she was telling us what we already knew.

I, as always, will reveal the secrets that you don’t know.

The Secrets That You Don’t Know

Americans completely understand where Waffle House positions itself as a company. We understand it as a 24-hour diner where you can reliably get food and expect it to technically be edible. Waffle House promises that food will arrive at your table, it doesn’t promise much more. What Americans don’t know about the company is its unique skills in the wake of disasters.

Waffle House is famous for its ability to maintain normal store hours during harsh weather conditions. As noted on Business Insider, after 2011’s Hurricane Irene, 22 Waffle Houses lost power and by the following Wednesday, only one had still remained closed.

It is because of their ability to maintain store hours that America’s disaster relief agency, FEMA, has employed what is called a Waffle House Index.

The Waffle House Index is a handy tool used to gauge the severity of natural disasters. Waffle House is so good at maintaining its 24 hours-a-day policy, that the temporary closing of its stores will actually alert the government on the storm’s impact on local communities. As described by dailymail, when the restaurants are open, it’s a code green, when there are limited menu options, it is a code yellow, and when the store is completely shut down…it’s a code red. Code red is when they FEMA knows things are apocalyptic. When the syrup isn’t running, it means humans bodies are.

This index raises a lot of questions…Namely, how did Waffle House get so good at this and why is the government exclusively focused on saving Waffle Houses?

What does this Waffle House Index imply about the way we are going to focus on our disaster relief efforts? There’s this phrase in economics and psychology that explains the dangers of using said metrics. Famed psychologist Dan Ariely talks about this in the Harvard Business Review, but it’s worth reiterating. Whenever we decide to use metrics, “you become what you measure.”

This explains why our country’s educators “teach to the test.” It helps us understand why companies care exclusively about stock performance. It helps us understand why blogs continue to use clickbait and poor research. Because what gets measured will get reinforced. Good test scores, high stock performances, and CPMs. These are what is measured and used to gauge outcomes. So, given enough time, this is all people in related fields will care about.

The Larger Impact

America gets trounced on and on from the global community about our unhealthy lifestyles. We see statistic after statistic about our obesity problem. So, considering the constant scrutiny, you would think America would start measuring its success based on human lives. You would think that after a disaster strikes, our first concern would be about saving people, right? Well, once again, we make the same mistake and choose to look to Waffle House to gauge our success. How very American …

FEMA’s implementation of the Waffle House Index creates a disaster relief program where all we’ll end up caring about is getting food establishments up and running. It ignores the larger issues concerning sanitation, public health, and overall safety.

When disaster strikes, America is going to forget to provide food and clean water because we’ll just assume that a functioning Waffle House relieves that. Think for a moment on how this thinking can affect the way we save lives. It is simply ludicrous.

We are fortunate that America has not had a gigantic disaster so far in 2017. If we had one, I know we’d be embarrassed when our government emphasizes omelettes over the safety of our children.

I implore America and I implore FEMA to eliminate the Waffle House Index as well as others like it.

Thank you for reading and thank you for letting me educate. Feel free to check out my website — Ingenius Gentleman — and follow me there to receive updates of new posts via email.

Follow if you enjoy!