Thursday, September 15, 2011

Waffles and Disasters

I remember driving through the windy and rainy remnants of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. I was in a convoy of vehicles headed to Pensacola, Florida that was part of a federal disaster medical response. The power was out everywhere and nothing was open. Then the lead SUV radioed that a restaurant up ahead had cars in the parking lot. We all pulled in and surprisingly enough, the fast food place was open for business (they had a generator running and offered a cash-only, limited menu). We wolfed down some hot food, thanked the manager, and were on our way. Everyone commented on the amazing resilience of a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

I didn't know it at the time, but that little Waffle House was part of a larger, well-crafted disaster plan. The Waffle House restaurant chain rates as one of the best disaster prepared businesses in the United States. Operating in the hurricane-prone South and Mid-Atlantic regions, the company has pre- and post-disaster plans for keeping its 1,600 restaurants open (or getting them quickly reopened). Providing customers with reasonably priced, hot food when nothing else is available is part of the privately held company's business model. And it works. FEMA even uses Waffle Houses as part of their disaster assessments – if a Waffle House isn't open someplace, they know conditions in that area are bad.

I give Waffle House some serious points for planning, logistics, and execution (key elements of any emergency response). Check out a recent Wall Street Journal article and the associated video for more.



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