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The completely preventable disaster was a major blemish on engineering, but it has been taken as a learning experience for the importance of good communication, the need for structured review processes, and constant focus on quality assurance during design and construction.

In July 1981, in Kansas City, one of the most tragic engineering failures occurred and caused the death of 114 people and injuring 200 others. The Hyatt Regency Hotel walkway collapse is a dark mark on engineering because it is viewed as a completely preventable accident were it not for some major oversights and missteps by some parties involved.

The accident occurred during a large event held at the hotel. A large group was walking along the walkways that spanned the length of the atrium lobby. These walkways were suspended directly above/below each other. When the suspension rods failed holding the 4th floor walkway up, it fell directly on the 2nd floor walkway,

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Figure 1

and then fell to the ground below. Upon investigation, it was determined a change by a sub-contractor, WRW, to the suspension rod design was the cause for the collapse.

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Figure 2

The change, shown above right, was made because having a single suspension rod was seen as unnecessary and very difficult to construct because the rods were 40’ and nuts were to be threaded all the way along. The separation of the suspension rods caused double the load on the supporting nut and the nut/rod connection was not designed to hold this load and subsequently collapsed.

Finger pointing began immediately after the failure:

·               Notification of the change made by telephone was claimed to have occurred by the sub-contractor, WRW, but was denied to have happened by the engineering firm, Gillium.

·               The drawings were reviewed and stamped by the Gillium, but were reviewed “only in conformance with the design concept and for compliance with the information given in the contract documents.”

·               Several parties involved claimed to have warned the engineering firm of the safety concern, but no action was taken.

The National Bureau Standards completed an investigation following the collapse. Their findings concluded that the suspension rod/nut connection directly caused the collapse and:

Under the original hanger rod arrangement (continuous rod) the box beam-hanger rod connections as shown on the contract drawings would have had the capacity to resist the loads estimated to have been acting at the time of collapse.”

The completely preventable disaster was a major blemish on engineering, but it has been taken as a learning experience for the importance of good communication, the need for structured review processes, and constant focus on quality assurance during design and construction. 

Prevention of the Hyatt Hotel Collapse

         Upon understanding the cause and fault of this engineering disaster, we can look at how this disaster could be prevented and learned from. This was a preventable disaster if the engineering firm noticed, and corrected the change, or if WRW properly reengineered the change to be able to handle the new loads introduced. Ultimately, Gillium, the engineering firm, is at fault for approving unsafe drawings but an argument can be made that WRW is at fault as well. Ethically, it is a grey area as to who is responsible, the lead engineering firm for missing the inadequacy of the engineering change or the sub contractor who made the change incorrectly. Because of the encompassing responsibilities of the engineering firm, they are to take the brunt of the blame.     

       What we can take from this disaster to prevent others is the need for constant quality checks and the willingness by companies to pay for this. The economic pressures that weigh in on projects cannot be ignored, however, public safety must be put above those issues. Also, review during any engineering change, however small, should have experts eyes on them and if possible, as many eyes as possible to prevent unpreventable human error. A set review process should always be used as it forces a change to go through a proven system and limits he-said, she-said battles. Written proof of review and verification is essential to prevent disaster and avoid misguided blame. 

 


 

   

 

ReferencesEdit

1. J. Paul Guyer. Ethical Issues from the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel Collapse. Continuing Education and Development, Inc. 2010.

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