Engineering Errors Led to Tragedy

On July 17th, 1981 two walkways in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri collapsed, killing 114 people and injuring 216. It remained the worst structural collapse in terms of lives lost until the collapse of the World Trace Center south tower in 2001 from apparent engineering errors.

engineering errors
Hyatt Regency Skywalk Memorial

The cause of the disaster was ultimately determined to be a catastrophic failure of connections between the walkways and the steel rods which were supposed to support them. The design was flawed in that the rods and connections were barely adequate to support the walkways, much less the weight of people. The original design was adequate but a change during construction was approved by engineers who later were found culpable of gross negligence, misconduct and unprofessional conduct in the practice of engineering.

Investigators determined that there was a lack of communication between architects, engineers, and manufacturers of the components used to build and support the walkways. Lack of communication has been the cause of many disasters and will probably be to blame for many more.

The disaster has been used to teach engineers and is a classic model for the study of engineering errors and ethics. Disaster response teams have also used lessons learned from the experience to teach future rescuers. A memorial to the victims was dedicated on November 12th, 2015.

Our lives are touched by engineering on a daily basis. The roof over our head in our homes, the stairs we climb at work and the elevator at the mall all depend on sound engineering to perform safely. Inspections, analysis, and communication must intertwine to maintain the integrity and quality necessary for a secure society.

Justin Hall is a professional engineer in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is available for consulting, expert witness services, and litigation support by calling 501-240-9213