Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Don't waffle

Moving from New Jersey to Florida 24 years ago opened a whole new world to me. Thanksgiving Day visits to the beach instead of bundling up in sweaters. No snow shoveling. And, a whole new world of food to discover.
What could this building be?
That's why I got excited when this building started going up near my my house. I had an idea what it might be, but it took a call to the hiring office to confirm. No, it's not a classic Jersey diner. Instead, it's going to be a new Waffle House.

One of those huge signature breakfasts
Without being near a classic New Jersey diner, a Waffle House is a great alternative. You can get one heck of a huge meal - and I mean HUGE - for not a whole lot of money. Plus, just like the Jersey diners, these places are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, there's a running joke that it's pointless for Waffle Houses to have locks on their doors, since you never see one closed once it's open.

Which makes for an interesting point when it comes to disaster recovery.

After the 2011 Joplin tornado closed down just about every business in the city except the two Waffle House locations, FEMA director Craig Fugate came up with an interesting way to determine how badly an area had been impacted by a hurricane. He referred to it as the Waffle House Index.

How does it work?  Simple.

A disaster happens. You roll into town expecting the worst. To determine how badly the storm affected the area, you drive immediately to the nearest Waffle House and determine its condition.

  • Does the restaurant have full power and a full menu? It's not really a disaster.
  • If the restaurant has limited power and a limited menu, you had better take the situation more seriously.
  • If the restaurant is closed, it's a full-on, according to Hoyle disaster, and you had better rush every single resource to the area as quickly as possible. 

While this did elicit a chuckle from reporters, it did point out an interesting concept for for emergency managers. There are degrees of a disaster. From the inconvenience of losing power for a few days to total leveling of wide swaths of a state, there are many different levels of response required, and each necessitates a proportionate reaction.

Each also requires clear communication to residents when it comes to telling them about how much relief is going to be headed their way. If a resident just has to head two blocks over to buy ice from an open grocery store, there's a good chance that a ton of federal and state aid isn't going to be flowing their way anytime soon. If, on the other hand, large commercial buildings like grocery stores are flattened, you can bet the amount of aid is going to be considerably larger.

Getting residents to understand this and prepare accordingly? Well, we may need to sit down over breakfast one day to talk about the best way to communicate that.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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