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Monday, September 12, 2016

The Waffle House Index

Craig Fuguate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has been quoted as saying: “If you get to a town after a disaster and the Waffle House is closed, that’s really bad—that’s where you go to work.”

The Waffle House chain of restaurants are located in the southern portion of the U.S. and are subsequently impacted by hurricanes and tornadoes. The company has developed a risk management and disaster preparedness planning that allows them to stay open or quickly get reopen after a disaster strikes. The stories are legendary and come from hurricanes with names like Katrina and Irene, and the names of cities hit by tornados such as Moore, OK or Joplin, MO.

How do they do it? It is a mixture of situational awareness, a company culture, planning, and agility. For hurricanes the planning dictates that food supplies are increased and staged, and generators are moved into place. Tornadoes do not allow much warning time, and their response is more reactionary—including borrowing staff from stores in non-impacted areas, working with their suppliers, and the commitment of their employees to get the restaurant up and running.

FEMA has a color scale for their Waffle House Index:

Green—the restaurants are open and serving a full menu, which means they have power and the damage is limited.

Yellow—the restaurants are open and serving a limited menu, which means there may be no power or limited generator power, and food supplies may be low.

Red—the restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage in that area.

The Waffle House restaurants are equipped with disaster recovery plans that explain how to keep the business open in the event of a disaster, and because of that it is rare for the index to hit red.

The Waffle House experience shows how a company has learned to survive and thrive when things become Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex, and Ambiguous. It’s called VUCA, and it is the subject of the next blog.

Up next: More on VUCA

Stay safe,
Rob

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