About this blog

Andrew Locke and Bob Sullivan

From Sept. 22-27, the posts in this blog about Rita's evacuation and devastation were reported and photographed by Bob Sullivan and Andrew Locke. Sullivan, 37, is MSNBC.com's technology and consumer fraud reporter. Locke, 34, in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial strategy, was on his second hurricane blog tour.

David Friedman and Miguel Llanos

From Sept. 18-22, the posts in this blog, examining Katrina's impact on the environment, were reported and photographed by Miguel Llanos and David Friedman. Llanos, 45, is MSNBC.com's environmental reporter. Photojournalist Friedman, 35, is a multimedia producer at MSNBC.com.

Kari Huus and Jim Seida

From Sept. 10-16, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Kari Huus and Jim Seida. Huus, 43, has been a journalist for 20 years and a reporter with MSNBC.com since 1996. Seida, 39, has been a media editor with the Web site since 1996.

Mike Brunker and Andrew Locke mugshot

From Sept. 2-9, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Mike Brunker, left, and Andrew Locke. A journalist for 25 years, Brunker, 49, is MSNBC.com's West Coast news editor. Locke, 34, has been a journalist for 17 years and is currently in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial media strategy.

How you can help

How to help the victims of Hurricane Rita

How to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina

THIS TIME, IT'S A DRILL

Posted: Friday, September 23 at 04:39 pm CT by Bob Sullivan

HOUSTON -- A screeching, almost unbearable whistle blows through the hotel's emergency public address systems. It's a little like that "emergency radio system," tone you hear on the radio once in a while, but always ignore.

This one can't be ignored. There's a mandatory meeting for all guests in the hotel's ballroom, we're told.

050923_not_drill_1

Joe Jennings, right bottom, general manager of the Magnolia hotel in Houston speaks to guests at a mandatory meeting on hurricane plans Friday afternoon. (Andrew Locke / MSNBC.com)

About 200 people, mostly families, jam the ballroom.

"We just want to give you a little bit of Magnolia hospitality," says Joe Jennings, general manager of the hotel, over the sound of crying babies. The  Magnolia is a 314-room hotel, right in Houston's downtown, and it's jammed with people planning to ride out Rita here. At the meeting, Jennings lays out instructions for the crowd. The ballroom, where we're sitting, is where we'll spend the worst parts of the storm.

As soon as there are "high winds and shattered windows," another screeching tone will sound, and we'll be told to get to the ballroom.

The hotel is packed with dogs and cats, but people are told to leave their pets in their rooms. 
"The safest place for them is in the bathroom, with the door closed," we're told.

We're also told the lights will go out, the phones will go down, and we'll just have to be patient. Jennings asks for nurses and doctors to volunteer; a ham radio operator volunteers to communicate with the outside world if we need him.

"And one more thing," Jennings says. "Close your drapes."

Despite the serious tone of the meeting, it's not sober. And when Jennings finishes, the hotel gets a rousing round of applause.

People are happy to be here.

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