Recent press reports indicate that FEMA uses the status of Waffle House restaurants to gauge the severity of conditions following a natural disaster. Fox News‘ Garrett Tenney explains:

After a disaster, officials call a restaurant in the affected area, and ask what’s on the menu. If the restaurant is serving everything, it means there is water and electricity and that the index is green. If the menu has been scaled back, the index is yellow, which means there’s water but no power.

In the rare event a Waffle House is completely shut down, the index is red and that usually means there’s big trouble.

While this might strike you as odd at first, such a non-traditional approach makes a lot of sense. Waffle House is a company that seeks to make money, and the amount of money it makes depends on serving customers. If a Waffle House is closed or has only a few menu items available, then it won’t make much money. This profit motive means that Waffle House will do everything it can to remain open or get open as soon as possible after a natural disaster.

The same concept can be applied to companies like Lowe’s, Home Deport, and Wal-Mart. Those companies invest in capabilities to monitor and track storms so they can prepare their stores for the single purpose of staying or getting back open for customers as soon as possible. If FEMA can leverage their efforts to determine how it can more effectively and efficiently respond to a natural disaster, then full steam ahead.

For once, FEMA is doing something that we enthusiastically applaud.