PANAMA CITY BEACH (CBS Local) — Hurricane Michael is so potentially dangerous, that a restaurant that never closes is officially closed.
A Waffle House in Panama City Beach pulled out the storm shutters and locked its doors Tuesday as Michael approached the Florida panhandle. A sign at the restaurant located just across from the beach on Highway 30-A says it plans to “open as soon as the storm passes.”
Michael, a Category 4 storm, is set to make landfall Wednesday afternoon, potentially near Panama City Beach.
The closing of a Waffle House restaurant is actually a very big deal. Known as the Waffle House Index, the Federal Emergency Management Agency Director actually monitors the resilient Georgia-based diner chain as a barometer for how well an area will recover from natural disasters.
First coined by FEMA Director W. Craig Fugate in 2004, the index is based on the extent of operations and service at the 24/7 restaurant chain following a storm and indicates how prepared a business is in case of a natural disaster.
“The Waffle House test just doesn’t tell us how quickly a business might rebound — it also tells how the larger community is faring,” FEMA’s Dan Stoneking wrote in a 2011 blog post.
The Waffle House Index has three, color-coded levels: Green means the restaurant is open and serving a full menu, yellow indicates it is open but serving from a limited menu, and red indicates the restaurant has been forced to close and the area is likely in need of serious assistance.
And the restaurant chain takes it’s role very seriously. In September, it activated its “Storm Center” to monitor Hurricane Florence.
“If we are open quickly after the storm, that means the community is coming back and folks are out, we are getting back to that sense of normalcy,” Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner told CNN in September. “After a storm, they’re really looking to us to be there to help them out because they’re used to us being there the rest of the year.”