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Tina Casey headshot

With New Climate Data, the Waffle House Index Scores a High-Tech Makeover

A revamped EPA climate website will enable the Waffle House Index to become an even more effective business forecasting tool during times of crisis.
By Tina Casey
Waffle House Index

Waffle House is well known for its meticulous and effective disaster response system, but the company was denied a key planning tool over the past four years when the Donald Trump administration delayed the release of climate data through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Now the Joe Biden administration has relaunched the EPA climate website with a strong focus on providing crucial information and forecasts that will enable Waffle House and other business stakeholders to prepare more effectively for climate-related crises.

What is the Waffle House Index?

The Waffle House Index surfaced about 10 years ago, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other emergency response planners took note of the company’s ability to rebound quickly from natural disasters.

Along with a granular employee communication and resource system, Waffle House earned high marks for its strategy of adjusting operations in accordance with the scope of the disaster. That is the Waffle House Index in a nutshell. If a Waffle House is closed during and after a disaster, emergency officials know that the impacts are widespread across the entire community.

The Waffle House Index resurfaced at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown last year, in March 2020. While the Trump administration continued to dither over a national response to a history-making crisis, a patchwork of individual states imposed lockdowns. Waffle House red-flagged the situation by shuttering hundreds of its stores, including some in states that had not yet imposed a lockdown. Unfortunately, former President Trump ignored the warnings.

Communities suffer when climate data goes missing

When the Trump administration delayed the release of climate data, it was not a simple matter of hiding information. The policy hobbled the ability of businesses to plan efficiently for disasters and assist in recovery.

Somewhat ironically, several months after Trump first took office FEMA posted an article on its blog, in which it solicited financial donations and other assistance for communities impacted by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The post also described how disaster planning by businesses like Waffle House is essential for community recovery.

“Businesses in communities are often some of the biggest drivers of recovery. If stores can open, people can go back to work. If people can go back to work, they can return to at least one piece of a normal life—and that little piece of normalcy can make a big difference,” FEMA wrote, adding that every business from hardware stores to coffee shops can play a role in recovery.

More climate data for better business planning

Against this backdrop, the Biden administration is reviving EPA’s climate change website.

“For the first time in four years, EPA now has a webpage to guide the public to a range of information, including greenhouse gas emissions data, climate change impacts, scientific reports, and existing climate programs within EPA and across the federal government,” EPA announced.

As a step towards that effort, last week EPA relaunched an additional website called Climate Change Indicators in the United States. The user-friendly website provides interactive data exploration tools and underscores the impact of climate change on human health and the environment.

With this long overdue update, we now have additional data and a new set of indicators that show climate change has become even more evident, stronger, and extreme – as has the imperative that we take meaningful action,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.

Businesses can lead on climate action

The contrast between the Trump and Biden administration could not be starker.

Where Trump solicited cash from businesses to assist in disaster recovery, the Biden administration opens up a toolkit of data and information that can help businesses plan ahead to reduce impacts and hasten recovery, help accelerate global decarbonization, and communicate the significance of their actions to customers, clients, and value chains.

The difference continues to ripple out politically months after Trump left office, as Republicans in the U.S. Senate continue to dig in their heels against climate action. With the Senate filibuster still in force, the razor-slim Democratic majority is not sufficient to pass legislation. Ten Republican Senators must cross the aisle to enable a 60-40 supermajority.

Businesses in the U.S. have been increasingly unified in lobbying for aggressive action, and the opening of the climate data floodgates will enable corporate citizens to step up their efforts.

Nevertheless, unless corporate leaders can convince 10 GOP Senators to lead on climate action, climate related disasters will continue to mount, along with expenses, disruption, and endangerment.

Image credit: Jon Tyson/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey