Ethical Disaster of the Hyatt Regency Collapse

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Eric Sandler Ethical Disaster of the Hyatt Regency Collapse

Construction on the 40-story Hyat Regency Crown Center began in 1978, and the hotel opened on July 1, 1980, after construction delays including an incident on October 14, 1979, when 2,700 square feet of the atrium roof collapsed because one of the roof connections on the north end of the atrium failed. The collapse was the second major structural failure in Kansas City in a little more than two years. On June 4, 1979, the roof of the then-empty Kempar Arena in Kansas City had collapsed without loss of life. The architects and engineering firms at the two collapses were different. One of the defining features of the hotel was its lobby, which featured a multistory atrium crossed by suspended concrete walkways on the second, third and fourth levels, with the fourth level walkway directly above the second level walkway.

On July 17, 1981, approximately 2,000 people had gathered in the atrium to participate in and watch a dance contest. Dozens stood on the walkways. At 7:05 PM, the walkways on the second, third and fourth floor were packed with visitors as they watched over the active lobby, which was also full of people. The fourth floor bridge was suspended directly over the second floor bridge, with the third floor walkway set off to the side several meters away from the other two. Construction difficulties led to a flawed design change that doubled the load on the connection between the fourth floor walkway support beams and the tie rods carrying the weight of both walkways. This new design could barely handle the dead load weight of the structure itself, much less the weight of the spectators standing on it. The connection failed and both walkways crashed one on top of the other and then into the lobby below, killing 114 people and injuring more than 200 others. The rescue operation lasted well into the next morning and was carried out by an army of emergency personnel, including 34 fire trucks, and paramedics and doctors from five area hospitals. Dr. Joseph Waeckerle directed the rescue effort setting up a makeshift morgue in the ruined lobby and turning the hotel's taxi ring into a triage center, helping to organize the wounded by highest need for medical care. Those who could walk were instructed to leave the hotel to simplify the rescue effort, the fatally injured were told they were going to die and given morphine. Workmen from a local construction company were also hired by the city fire department, bringing with them cranes, bulldozers, jackhammers and concrete-cutting power saws. The biggest challenge to the rescue operation came when falling debris severed the hotel's water pipes, flooding the lobby and putting trapped survivors at great risk of drowning. As the pipes were connected to water tanks, as opposed to a public source, the flow could not be shut off. Eventually, Kansas City's fire chief realized that the hotel's front doors were trapping the water in the lobby. On his orders, a bulldozer was sent in to rip out the doors, which allowed the water to pour out of the lobby and thus eliminated the danger to survivors. In all twelve lives were rescued from the rubble.

The two walkways were suspended from a set of steel tie rods, with the second floor walkway hanging directly underneath the fourth floor walkway. The walkway platform was supported on 3 cross-beams suspended by steel rods retained by nuts. The cross-beams were box beams made from C-channels welded toe-to-toe. The original design by Jack D. Gillum and Associates called for three pairs of rods running from the second floor all the way to the ceiling. Investigators eventually determined that the new design supported only 60 percent of the minimum load required by Kansas City building codes. Havens Steel Company, the contractor responsible for manufacturing the rods, objected to the original plan of Jack D. Gillum and Associates, since it required the whole of the rod below...
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