There really truly is a Waffle House Index that those of us in the disaster response world use to measure how bad a disaster is. It isn't complex but it is real and I promise I'm not making this up. So, here it is:
GREEN: Waffle House is open and has a full menu available
YELLOW: Waffle House is operating on a limited menu due to power outages or other disruption of service.
RED: Waffle House is closed.
Lest you think that I'm making this up because I love the Waffle House (which I do) here is what FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said, "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? "That's really bad. That's where you go to work."
So, since American Family Insurance has sponsored me to speak in Joplin this week, I decided that I should visit the local Waffle House to check in and see how they were doing. (Also, they were miraculously just across the parking lot from my hotel!) Marla, my agent from In The Wings Speaker Management, was already there and already had them organized to say, "Good morning Dan!" as I walked in the door. It was hilarious. It was a Waffle House Level Green kind of a day. They were offering a full menu and I was hungry. Following the tornado, despite the lack of electricity for several day days, they managed to stay open (Level Yellow) and help! The stories from the staff took my breath away!
Our waitress, Michelle, came up to the table and introduced herself and made us feel right at home. When she wasn't delivering food to us at our table she was encouraging the gentleman that was sitting at the table next to us. He was struggling and she stopped to give him hugs and hear his story. It was really touching to see her in action. I asked her what happened to her during the tornado and she shared the horrific story of how her home was completely destroyed. She showed us the before and after photos that she had taken with her phone. I'm not even sure I can wrap my brain around this or begin to understand it but she said that a car wash from several blocks away was tossed right through her house! It was demolished! Gone. In. An. Instant. GONE!
Michelle lived the next 2 months in her car while she continued to work at the Waffle House where she would be able to encourage and feed her neighbors and regular customers. Michelle is my kind of people. Lost everything; serving others. Wow!