INDIVIDUAL ESSAY – The Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse
The engineering profession is undoubtedly one of the most important fields in our modern society. Engineers carry the technical skills and knowledge that are essential to the safe and efficient construction of infrastructure upon which our society relies on. The responsibilities tangible to this level of expertise are of the upmost importance when understanding the professional role of the modern engineer. An unfortunate consequence of this level of responsibility is that the decisions made by individuals or groups in the engineering field can have potentially devastating effects on the wider community. On July 17th 1981, an avoidable engineering failure led to the largest structural disaster in terms of loss of human life in U.S history (Poel & Royakkers, 2011). It is critical that we analyse the actions taken by professionals in the lead up to this event, whilst also considering the ethical issues at play, in order to understand and prevent similar failures in the future.
In July 1976, the Crown Center Redevelopment Corporation began the design and development of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. In cooperation with an architectural firm G.C.E international, led by Engineer Jack Gillum, were selected as the primary designers for the Hyatt Project (Engineering.com, 2012). After two years of designing in accordance with Kansas City building codes, construction on the Hyatt Project commences. As part of the building design there were three concrete walkways spanning the atrium, with the fourth floor walkway directly overhanging the second floor walkway. The walkways were suspended from the ceiling by large metal rods that were bolted through the cross-support beams underneath each walkway. (Engineering.com, 2012).
The fabrication of the metal rods was subcontracted to Havens Steel Company who were sent the original designs for the walkways. The original design implemented a singular, ceiling-suspended steel rod to be threaded through both the second and fourth floor walkways. Realising the difficulty of fabricating such large metal rods and potential risk of damage during transport, the fabrication company decides to alter the walkway suspension design, opting for two separate rods to hold both the top and bottom walkways (Poel & Royakkers, 2011). The altered designs were sent back to GCE and later approved for construction by Jack Gillum. Disputes as to the actual communication between the two parties during this time were evident. Unbeknown to Gillum, this alteration of the design drastically reduced the structural integrity of the walkways; only 1/3 of the building code-required load strength capacity had been met. (Seconds From Disaster, 2006)
The flawed design was implemented in the final build and construction of the Hyatt Project was completed in July, 1980. Just one year later during a tea-dance party, the flawed connection point on the box beam holding the second and fourth floor walkways together fails, killing 114 people and injuring over 200 others. Immediate investigations into the cause of the collapse were launched and as a result of the findings, Gillum, Duncan and G.C.E International have their engineering authorities revoked (Engineering.com, 2012).The disaster caused millions of dollars of damage alongside clear public distress amongst those who were affected by the tragedy. Drastic changes to the design engineers’ responsibilities under the American Society of Civil Engineers were made following these events.
The crux of the moral issues involved with the collapse surround the miscommunication between the construction/project management team and the design engineers. It can be said that this failure in communication during construction ultimately led to the failure of the structure. Investigations into the collapse revealed some concerning factors in the lead up to the event. It was revealed that during