Scattered, smothered and covered aren’t exactly what Waffle House execs have on their minds as they huddle around the conference table at their headquarters in Norcross watching for the latest updates on Hurricane Dorian.
>>LISTEN TO SANDRA PARRISH’S FULL ON-AIR REPORT BELOW.
Some 400 restaurants belonging to the chain in four states are expected to be impacted--that’s about one-fifth of its total stores. The company’s own software is predicting 140 of those will suffer some sort of damage.
With three huge screens before them and laptops and phones at the ready, they’re accessing not only the future implications of Dorian but what to do in the aftermath.
“We all give that information to state and federal partners, so they can see the overview of the community after the storm,” says Pat Warner, director of Public Relations and External Affairs.
That information is also used to come up with the Waffle House Index, coined in 2004 by then Florida Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate who would go on to become director of the federal agency.
“He came up with an unofficial metric to tell his folks that if a Waffle House is open keep driving. If we’re on a limited menu, then there’s limited resources, power and water, [to] keep driving and drive to the nearest Waffle House that’s closed because you know it’s really bad,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.
Now the chain bears great responsibility in helping come up with that index by staging its own war room where logistics of people, utilities, and food are critical elements.
“We try to stay ahead of the folks that are down there. They’re dealing with the problem head-on and we try to think about 48-72 hours down the road about what we’re seeing. We have our eyes on the news. We have access to sales information… where we’re getting business and where we’re not,” says Will Mizell, VP of People and head of the response effort.
He says they have “jump teams” on standby that are not only helping in areas with an influx of evacuees but who will then turn around and head to the affected areas to help get the restaurants back up and running.
“All those folks who are helping get the infrastructure back in place, they need a place to eat and so a lot of times we’re feeding them,” says Mizell.
Warner says that’s where the index plays a key role.
“Us getting open quickly--that shows how quickly the communities are coming back,” he says.