The shocking case of an elderly couple, in their 70s, being trapped in an elevator in the Mydin Meru Shopping Mall in Ipoh, is not the first time involving lifts in Perak. Why are our track record, maintenance culture and safe operation procedures so low? Is it ignorance, apathy, or have the appropriate departments simply run out of money?
On the morning of Saturday July 1, 74-year-old Md Dahalan Baki, and his wife, Ahadiyah Zakaria, 70, entered a lift at the Mydin Meru Shopping Mall, but could not get out. They were stuck in the lift for over 25 hours. This is shocking.
They were finally rescued the following day, only after their daughter had searched high and low for them, had lodged a missing person’s report with the police, and by chance had come upon her father’s car parked in the car-park at the Mydin Mall.
Curiosity made her make a detailed search of the mall and, together with a security guard, went to the lifts where she heard her father shouting for help. When they were rescued, her parents were so weak that they had to be hospitalised for a check-up.
The couple, who are from Taman Meru, were so traumatised after the harrowing incident that, at the time of writing, were still in shock and have refused to talk to anyone, including the police and reporters.
Although they have returned home, questions have been raised about their disappearance and the lack of a safe operating procedure, not just for the lifts, but for the whole shopping complex.
Although the local Mydin management have declined to comment on the incident, they have said that their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, will arrange a detailed investigation.
It has since been revealed that the lifts had been removed from service, for maintenance work. If that were the case, how did the elderly couple manage to get into the lift? Were there no notices or signs to say that the lifts were under maintenance?
Once the couple had entered the lift, and were stuck in it, what happened to the alarm in the lift? Had it been disabled for the duration of the maintenance work?
Most lifts have an alarm which is connected to a communications centre or a working telephone line which is operated 24/7. If there are any problems, the maintenance contractor is automatically contacted, and staff will tell him the lift number and exact location for the company to despatch an engineer.
All of these safeguards appear to have been missing in the Ipoh incident. Anyone who is trapped has no means of communicating with the outside world. Not everyone owns a mobile phone, and what if it was not possible to obtain a phone signal?
Malaysia is highly regulated, with CCTVs at every corner, building and road junction. Did this mall not have any CCTVs in it?
Most lifts have a CCTV, either trained on the doors or inside the lift. Were these not switched on? Were they not recording? If the CCTV footage was inspected daily, why did no one notice that a couple had entered the lifts, and then failed to come out?
The mall complex cannot be run efficiently, if security procedures are lacking. Is this a problem which happens a lot in the provinces? Is it different in KL, and are things run more efficiently in the city?
The mall management are lucky the couple came out alive. If the shock had been so great and the couple had suffered a serious illness, who would be responsible? Who pays for the damages? Who is made accountable for the lack of safety procedures? Mydin management? The mall management? The security guard company? The company in charge of lift maintenance?
Why is the lift operating culture in Perak so terrible? Perhaps, it is bad in the rest of the country, too. We only find out how bad the situation is, when things go wrong. Our maintenance culture is non-existent, because we only react after an incident.
In June 2012, an elderly couple and a toddler were stuck in the Perak Golf Club lift. It may not be in a multi-storey mall, but the responses of the staff and management were abysmal.
The family was trapped in the lift for over an hour. The alarm in the lift was probably broken, so they phoned the Barossa Restaurant and managed to speak to the restaurant manager, and asked him to summon help to free them.
The manager’s poor command of the English language did not help, but it was his shoddy attitude which is worrying. He said that he did not have the golf club’s receptionist’s number, but would try to look for her, when he had finished serving his customers in the restaurant, so she could summon help.
In February 2013, a lift at the Pangsapuri Blok A25, of the naval base in Lumut, plunged five floors to the ground. A person was found in the wreckage, with severe head injuries after being struck by a steel cable. She died despite the efforts of the local hospital, at Seri Manjung, to save her.
Residents of the block, who wished to remain anonymous, had complained that the lifts were not maintained, screeched when they were in use, and the steel cables were old, worn and rusty after rainwater had leaked onto them.
Contrast their allegations with the view of Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar, of the Royal Malaysian Navy, who said that the lifts were ‘well-maintained and installed with quality parts’.
As with most of the accidents in Malaysia, the authorities claim that all is well, money has been spent on maintenance, and the best equipment that money can buy, had been sourced. In practise, many find the opposite to be true.
So, is it shoddy maintenance work, or incompetent maintenance crews?
Malaysia, not just Perak, has a poor maintenance culture. Will lessons be learnt after this latest incident at the Mydin Shopping Mall?
Before that can happen, the authorities need to acknowledge that they have a problem and be determined to put things right. Let us start by compiling the incidents involving lifts over the past decade, and see how these matters were resolved.