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Waffle House workers jump into storm states to help

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Recent reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses a “Waffle House Index” to measure a storm’s severity were no surprise to any of the employees at the tiny Waffle House on U.S. 13 in Dover.

It turns out every employee knows the company ethic is keep serving customers no matter what, and every restaurant has a storm playbook with protocols for how to keep operating if the electricity and running water go out.

The Waffle House chain, known for keeping the lights on no matter what Mother Nature throws its way, is actually a measure forecasters use to determine how a storm is affecting the people on the ground. When a Waffle House closes, it’s really bad, federal officials said. Hence the Waffle House Index.

It’s an informal gauge the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses to determine how much assistance will be required for disaster recovery. It ranges from:
“¢ Green – Waffle Houses have power and are serving a full menu
“¢ Yellow – Food is limited and so are the menus. Power’s either out or supplied by emergency generators.
“¢ Red – Restaurants are closed.

Because of their small size and dedicated staff, Waffle Houses can keep serving when restaurants that require more staff go dark.

To help employees whose own homes may be flooded, Waffle House sends “jump teams” to its 1,100-plus corporate locations when major storms hit. “We kind of view it as we’re all in it together, even though we’re in 25 states,” corporate spokesman Pat Warner said. “Jump teams go in to help the local management teams and the local associates because it’s hard to run a restaurant when you’re dealing with weather at your house. It takes the pressure off them so they can focus on their families and their homes.”

“It’s always been a thing for Waffle House,” said Tara Boddy, who coordinates the chain’s three Delaware stores. “We sent jump teams down there to Houston. We all work as a team. We try to work together. You help take care of each other when you’re corporate.”

Waffle House doesn’t have anyone from Delaware scheduled for a Florida jump team currently, but Warner said that could change later in the month.

Boddy wanted to go to North Carolina when Hurricane Matthew flooded the coastline last fall, but it didn’t work out. Kara Pickett, a manager at Waffle House in Smyrna, spent three days there though.

Living in a local hotel and working at three Waffle House sites, Pickett worked 12-hour shifts on and off, cleaning up, ordering shipments of fresh drinking water, and serving customers on paper plates while water lines were still down.

“It was right after the hurricane,” Pickett said. “We went there to relieve the other workers because a lot of them had flooded homes. They were in good spirits. There was one woman whose house had flooded but she still came to work. It was a lot of fun to help people out.”

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