As Hurricane Florence continues its churn toward the East Coast, some are looking toward a popular Georgia-based restaurant chain as a disaster indicator.
Both before and after storms, emergency responders and residents have used the status of Waffle House operations as a gauge of just how bad the damage has been or might be.
The "Waffle House Index," or test, is a term coined by former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate in 2004 to determine a disaster's impact based on how the recovery is going.
South Carolina's Post and Courier, in the meantime, gave the index a prophetic aspect in its "what you need to know" guide ahead of Florence's expected landfall.
"If the Coburg Cow is taken down and Waffle House locks its doors as a hurricane looms, people say things are 'about to get real,' " said the guide. "Well, the cow came down Monday. But Waffle House was still cranking out hash browns."
"If the Waffle House is open, everything's good," Fugate said on the episode.
"They are open most of the time. And that was the index. If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad. We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow…" he continued. "If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the bad stuff yet."
Hurricane Florence's expected path has moved further south, but is expected to batter parts of North and South Carolina as well as Virginia when its eye makes landfall Saturday. Millions have been ordered to evacuate, with President Trump urging residents in the storm's path to stay safe and listen to local officials. The National Weather Service is calling Florence "very large and incredibly dangerous."
The "index" isn't intended to make light of a disaster's potential effects, but ahead of Florence, the 24-hour restaurant was generating light-hearted buzz on social media.
"I'm waiting on Waffle House's official statement on this hurricane. it's not serious unless they close," wrote one Twitter user. "Is Waffle House closed yet? I need to know if I should panic yet," said another.
Waffle House responded to messages, remarking that safety is its "No. 1 concern" and clarifying that the company looks to "local and state governments for guidance on evacuations." Waffle House also shared a photo from its corporate offices in Norcross, Ga., with a caption that said, "The @WaffleHouse Storm Center is activated and monitoring #Florence. Plan ahead and be safe."
But the unofficial test has much to do with bouncing back.
"The index itself isn't just about whether or not you can get pralines on your waffles or if you can get waffles at all, but rather about the damage in a neighborhood," FEMA wrote on its blog in 2017. "If a Waffle House can serve a full menu, they've likely got power (or are running on a generator). A limited menu means an area may not have running water or electricity, but there's gas for the stove to make bacon, eggs, and coffee: exactly what hungry, weary people need."
Pat Warner, a Waffle House spokesperson, told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution in 2011 that the company was "flattered" to gain such a reputation.