Who knew one of our favorite Southern restaurant chains played such a key role in natural disasters? 

Waffle House Wahlberg
Credit: Raymond Boyd/Contributor/Getty Images

Southerners praise the Waffle House for smothered hash browns, pecan waffles, and other downhome breakfast fare. The Federal government praises Waffle House as a metric for assessing damage from natural disasters.

Since 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been using the so-called "Waffle House index" for risk management situations. And with the bulk of the restaurant's 1,900 outposts located in the Southeast, the chain is no stranger to storm preparation. Simply put, since the Waffle House is well prepared for disaster, the government uses the chain as a gauge to see how an area is coping when a hurricane, tornado, or other natural disaster strikes.

As a 2011 FEMA blog post further explains, "...the Waffle House test doesn't just tell us how quickly a business might rebound–it also tells us how the larger community is faring. The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again–signaling a stronger recovery for that community."

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Now, Pat Warner, a spokesperson for Waffle House has revealed just how dire the Waffle House index was in the wake of Hurricane Irma: 157 eateries shut down. "Before Irma there was [Hurricane] Katrina, where we had to close 107 restaurants for evacuations. So, Irma has set the Waffle House record," Warner told Atlanta Magazine.

Warner also said that Irma knocked out the power of 144 Florida Waffle House locations. Many have since reopened, with 14 still closed as of last Tuesday, September 12th.

In times of need, Waffle House is known for going above and beyond for its community. During both Irma and Harvey, Waffle House pitched in with temporary shelter to employees, and the brand is known for dispatching a much-loved disaster relief food truck–complete with a generator and full kitchen. Year-round, the Waffle House Foundation gives back to local communities in its home state of Georgia with financial aid and volunteer work. Whether you take 'em smothered and covered or peppered and country, that's a pretty darn good chaser for your hash browns.