May Program Recap – Crisis Communications Chat with Waffle House

May Program Recap – Crisis Communications Chat with Waffle House

Article by Iyanna Peoples, Fall ’22 Public Relations Graduate of Florida A&M University

Date: May 24, 2023
Location: Care Point Health and Wellness Center
Speaker: Njeri Boss, Vice President of Food Safety and Public Relations at Waffle House

Crisis communications is critical in the public relations industry because it is important for any business or organization to effectively respond in the face of an emergency. During her presentation with the FPRA Capital Chapter, Njeri Boss shared the strategic plan behind the Waffle House Index, a crisis preparation guide that helps track the severity of storms in certain areas. The index was created by former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Craig Fugate and became widely embraced following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Based on the operations of a Waffle House in the affected area, there are three levels that index uses to measure the impact a storm:

  • Green indicates a restaurant is operating normally with electricity and a full menu; therefore, the damage in the area is limited
  • Yellow means a restaurant is sourcing power from a generator and is serving a limited menu, so resources could be limited in the area.
  • Red signals severe damage in an area which resulted in the closing of a restaurant.

It is Waffle House’s commitment to maintain and restore the sense of normalcy within impacted areas so that associates can continue to earn money and residents have a hot meal and place to gather. The strategic plan involves three steps for pre-storm and post-storm preparation: plan, prep, and respond. Here are key takeaways from each step:

  1. Be ready. Set a plan in place so that your business or organization knows how to react if water, electricity, gas and other important needs aren’t accessible.
  2. Prepare and stay updated on storm tracking. Pre-hurricane season meetings are a must to collect all associates’ emergency contacts, create unit ready checklists and evacuation plans for restaurants. Once a storm is announced to hit, the corporate support team utilizes a tracking software to share the most accurate information with unit managers and associates. Generators, fuel and vendors are distributed to units in case power fails in an area.
  3. Effective communication improves the ways in which corporate can support a unit’s needs. Waffle House stays in communication with the government to know whether to close down a restaurant or if an area is placed on curfew. Also, the corporate team contacts impacted units to respond to requests for supplies, hotel rooms and anything else a restaurant would need to reopen. Social media platforms post updates for customers to know the operational status of their local unit(s).

Njeri’s presentation was insightful for the Capital Chapter, and there were many pivotal points we could apply in our professions before, during and after hurricane season.