Coronavirus Breaks Waffle House Index

(AL.com) Southerners have long relied on the Waffle House Index to understand the severity of a natural disaster. But the coronavirus pandemic has broken the metric with the breakfast chain announcing the closure of a quarter of its restaurants on Wednesday.

The crisis has interrupted Richard Bennett’s daily ritual that includes stopping off at the Waffle House on U.S. 98 in Daphne to order breakfast, socialize with four-to-five other regulars and “get brought down to Earth” by the waitresses.

“It’s just a place where you can come to in the middle of the night or if you get irritable,” said Bennett, 71, of Spanish Fort, who stopped off at the restaurant to buy a cup of coffee and say “hello” to the wait staff on the same day that the Georgia-based company announced it was closing 365 restaurants as the coronavirus crisis ravages the restaurant industry.

The iconic Southern chain’s closures also signify something else about a pandemic: The famed “Waffle House Index” that has long measured the impact of weather events, could be rendered useless as a company that prides itself on never closing restaurants is forced to shut down during a public health crisis.

The famed Index or “Matrix” was created in 2011, by then-Federal Emergency Management Administration administrator and former Florida state EMA director Craig Fugate.

The index’s formula is simple in that it utilizes three measures of storm damage based on stop light colors: green means the restaurant is serving a full menu and indicates utilities are functioning and damage is limited, yellow means the restaurants is serving a limited menu and that electricity might be supplied through a generator or food supplies are low and a red means the restaurant is closed and severe damage is nearby.

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