Cracking the ‘Waffle House Index’: How breakfast may determine the severity of this hurricane season

Jeff Zeleny, Richard Coolidge, Alexandra Dukakis & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
Cracking the ‘Waffle House Index’: How breakfast may determine the severity of this hurricane season

The Fine Print

If disaster strikes this hurricane season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will use an unconventional system to evaluate damage: the ‘Waffle House Index.’

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told “The Fine Print” that he started using Waffle Houses as an informal metric of measuring the severity of a storm in its aftermath. He first started using the method in his previous post overseeing emergency management in Florida.

“If the Waffle House was open and had a full menu, it was green because that meant they hadn't lost power.”

“If [it] was open but had a limited menu, it meant that there were more problems, so they were yellow. And if the store was closed, it was red.”

Fugate, who is responsible for briefing President Obama after natural disasters strike, said he hasn’t shared the ‘Waffle House Index’ with the President, but that the two have enough experience responding to disaster sites.

The Waffle House Index was put into use earlier this year in the deadly tornado in Moore, Okla., a disaster even worse than the one that struck Joplin, Mo., in 2011.

“When we were on the ground responding to Moore, I was talking to the White House,” Fugate explained,. “I said, ‘Well just tell the President it looks like Joplin and he’ll understand what I’m talking about.’”

Once again, hurricane season is intensifying. While forecasts predict the current season will be above average this year, Fugate said he does not plan to do anything differently.

“A below average hurricane season was 1992. The first storm of the season was Hurricane Andrew. So much for a below average forecast,” he told “The Fine Print.” “You can look at your past history of averages and go, ‘We are going to have a certain number of wildfires. We'll have events like Moore. We'll have some tropical activity.’ But the caveat is a catastrophic event.”

Fugate said that while you can “pick your disaster” to fear this hurricane season, his best advice is simply to be prepared.

“Sit down your family and talk about what you would do if an emergency happened,” Fugate said,” .“Whether it be you have to evacuate because there's a wildfire, or [if] there's a flood forecast, or [if] there's a tornado warning—put a plan together.”

For more of the interview with Craig Fugate, including how he thinks FEMA would handle Hurricane Katrina today, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”

ABC's Kirk Reid, Gary Westphalen, Steve Bottorff, Mark Banks and Mark Rabin contributed to this episode.