Hyatt Regency Hotel Collapse

On July 17, 1981, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, suffered the structural collapse of two overhead walkways. Loaded with partygoers, the concrete and glass platforms cascaded down, crashing onto a tea dance in the lobby, killing 114 and injuring 216. Kansas City society was affected for years, with the collapse resulting in billions of dollars of insurance claims, legal investigations and city government reforms.

The Hyatt had been built just a few years before, during a nationwide pattern of fast-tracked large construction with reduced oversight and major failures. Its roof had partiallly collapsed during construction, and the ill-conceived skywalk design progressively degraded due to a miscommunication loop of corporate neglect and irresponsibility. An investigation concluded that it would have failed even under one-third of the weight it held that night. Convicted of gross negligence, misconduct and unproffesional conduct, the engineering company lost its national affiliation and all engineering licenses in four states, but was acquited of criminal charges.

Investigators concluded that the underlying problem was a lack of proper communication between the engineering company and the steel fabrication company. In particular, the drawings prepared by the engineering company were only preliminary sketches, but the steel fabricator interpreted them as finished drawings. The engineering company failed to review the initial design thoroughly, and accepted the steel fabricator’s proposed plan via a phone call without performing necessary calculations or viewing sketches that would have revealed its serious intrinsic flaws; in particular doubling the load on the fourth-floor beams. Reports in a court testimony cited a feedback loop of architect’s unverified assumptions, each having believed that someone else had performed calculations and checked reinforcements but without any actual proof in documentation or review channels. Onsite workers had neglected to report noticing beams bending, and instead rerouted their heavy wheelbarrows around the unsteady walkways. The owner of the engineering company would later reflect that the desin flaw was so obvious that “any first-year engineering student could figure it out, but only if it had been checked”.

The Hyatt Regency collapse remains the deadliest non-deliberate structural failure in American history, and it was the deadliest structural collapse in the U.S. untilĀ  the collapse of the World Trade Center towers 20 years later. The world responded to the Hyatt disaster by upgrading the culture and academic curriculum of engineering ethics and emergency management. In this respect, the event joins the legacies of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.



* Which supports and barriers were in play?

* What were the dynamics?

* Who, or what, won the Tug-of-War?

*Discuss the outcome with your friends and family.

* Use Post #4 as a reference for the dynamics and the relationships between supports and barriers.