Friday, October 9, 2009

Condominium Living: Practival vs. Prestigious

This has not been a great few weeks for Metro-Manila. First there was the the tropical storm on Sept. 26 which flooded the city and surrounding suburbs. Now we are experiencing rolling power outages as the result of equipment problems at Meralco, our electric utility. This situation which began on Oct. 7 will likely continue until tomorrow and possibly beyond.

My wife Lydia and I live in a high rise condominium building, and in the event of a blackout, we residents depend on a backup generator located on the premises that powers the elevators and illuminates the common area including the stairwells plus one emergency light in each unit. When the first power interruptions occurred, they lasted for several hours. In each of these instances, there was a long gap before the generator kicked in. This meant that during this wait time, occupants--especially those on the upper floors--were stranded inside (and from) their units unless they were willing to fumble and grope their way through unlit corridors and darkened enclosed stairwells. A similar generator failure which lasted much longer occurred during a typhoon-related blackout a few years ago. In such situations, the prestige associated with living on the higher levels of a 26 floor high-rise like ours becomes meaningless. In fact such a location can turn into a hazard for those residents.

Before I arrived in the Philippines four years ago, Lydia preceded me here and was the one who selected our condo. She had a choice of a unit on the 25th floor or of another on the seventh floor. She wisely selected the latter knowing in the event of an emergency, especially if elevator service were unavailable, it would be much easier to evacuate from a lower floor.

In such a crisis I also prefer to have a basic cell phone that has a flashlight to a more expensive camera- equipped and / or Internet ready model which does not. What does this have to do with power outages? When the building generator failed, my cell phone performed double duty by illuminating the blacked out common areas thus allowing me to leave (and return to) our condominium at will in order to go about my business, to stay in touch with Lydia (who decided to stay indoors), and to contact other family members to see how they were faring. By way of comparison what additional services can a fancy mobile phone perform in these instances? Its expensive features might as well not even exist. (Speaking of phones, here's a tip: If the main telephone for your residence is a cordless connected to a landline, the phone will not function during a power interruption. Keep a modular corded phone as a backup. This unit will likely still work as long as service is available from your phone company, whether or not you have electric power).

I've met some residents here who are status-conscious and proud to the point of bragging about living on the upper floors. But in my opinion, in a disaster such as a fire or or earthquake a simpler life style that for example entails having to traverse on foot only seven floors instead of twenty-six to leave the building, and using a cheap but practical mobile phone to light the way out trumps dwelling in and maybe being trapped in a higher and more expensive unit any day.

Oh well, in case of a disaster I suppose while those occupants in the top floors are sitting and waiting to be rescued, they can use their state-of-the art cellphones to take pictures of each other and browse the web.

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