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As Florida is threatened by powerful Category 4 Hurricane Ian, the Waffle House restaurant chain, which prides itself on being open 24/7, is helping FEMA identify the areas hardest hit by the storm and decide which restaurants to close.

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Established in 2004, the “Waffle House Index” was used by FEMA to measure the strength of a storm or hurricane. According to the emergency management agency, the “unofficial figure” determines the impact of the storm and the likely extent of assistance needed for disaster recovery.

“We don’t think about it in terms of PR,” Waffle House CEO Walt Emer said in an interview with Varney & Co. Wednesday. “We are really trying to keep our people safe and we are doing everything we can to help the communities we serve.”

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There are three security codes in the sign: green, which indicates that the full Waffle House menu is being served; yellow, which means that food or energy is limited; and red, which means the restaurant is completely closed.

HURRICANE IAN APPROACHES CATEGORY 5 BEFORE FALLING IN FLORIDA

“The index itself is not only about whether you can get pralines with your waffles or if you can get waffles at all, but how much damage has been done to the area.” FEMA Newsletter 2017 states. “Business in communities is often one of the main drivers of recovery. If stores can open, people can return to work. If people can get back to work, they can get back to at least one part of a normal life — and that part of normality can make a big difference.”

Waffle House’s CEO acknowledged that the restaurant chain could “open faster than anyone else.”

“And if we were really struggling to open up,” Emer said, “it would be very difficult for others in the community as well.”

As Hurricane Ian begins to hit Florida’s west coast near Sarasota, Emer explained that Waffle House has decentralized management that calls localities regarding the status of restaurants opening or closing.

“Now I am here outside of Tampa to help them make the right decision. But we try to make the best decisions as close to the scene as possible,” Emer said. “Most of our stores that are now at risk are closed” from Naples and Bradenton.

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The CEO noted that more offices could close in Florida as they plan to close “by word of mouth”.

“Our insurance is that all of us here are trying to make sure we take care of everyone,” Emer said. “We are self-insured.”

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