Hyatt Regency Hotel Disaster Essay,
The Kansas City,
MO Hyatt Regency Hotel was designed to be open and airy, with a lobby
consisting of an open atrium that extended to the top of the
building. On one side of the building were the hotel rooms, and on
the other side were the meeting and conference facilities. To
facilitate the transfer of guests from their rooms to the conference
facilities, walkways were to be built on each floor to connect the
two. To maintain the open feel of the atrium, the walkways were
suspended from the ceiling without any imposing, bulky support
columns to disrupt the openness. Two walkways were suspended one
above the other, and were to use a common set of continuous support
rods connected to the roof above.
firm, G.C.E. Inc., designed the walkways to be suspended by rods that
hung from the roof structure. Each rod would pass through the upper
walkway and on down to the lower walkway. Under each walkway, a nut
and washer would be threaded on each of the rods to carry the load of
the walkway. There was only one problem with this design. To get a
nut up to the bottom of the upper walkway, the entire length of the
rods would have to be threaded. Threading the entire length of the
rods would have been both expensive and time consuming.
firm, Havens Steel, decided to modify the design to make it easier to
construct. They cut the rods in half and ran those halves from the
roof to the upper walkway and placed nuts under the upper walkway to
support it. They then drilled another set of holes in the upper
walkway, four inches from the first set, and hung the lower hangers
from the second set of holes. The second set of hangers ran down to
the bottom walkway and supported it, but this minor alteration more
than doubled the load on the nuts under the upper walkway, and
created a moment.
a shop drawing of the revised hanger design to G.C.E., and it was
returned with G.C.E.’s engineering stamp of approval. Havens claims
that they also discussed the change over the phone, which G.C.E.
construction, a faulty connection in the atrium roof caused part of
the roof to collapse. Several investigations were conducted, and the
collapse was attributed to a failed connection due to poor
On July 17,
1981, one year after the hotel opened, two of the walkways collapsed
during a huge dance party which over 1500 people attended. 114 people
were killed, and over 200 were injured.
ensuing 24-week administrative law trial, which followed the
collapse, G.C.E. was found entirely responsible for the collapse. The
original design didn’t conform to the Kansas City building code,
and would only have held 60% of the required load. Evidence of their
lack of care during the design process and of a lack of appropriate
investigation following the roof collapse was widespread. The
aforementioned evidence consisted of a series of mistakes,
oversights, and omissions in the detail drawings of the hangers that
Jack Gillum and
Daniel Duncan (the principals of G.C.E.) were found guilty of gross
negligence, misconduct, and unprofessional conduct in the practice of
engineering. As a result, both lost their engineering licenses,
G.C.E. was bankrupted, and expensive civil suits were settled out of
court. G.C.E. also had its certificate of authority as an engineering
firm revoked. However, both are currently practicing engineering in
Redevelopment Corporation – Owner of the hotel.
G.C.E. Inc. –
Engineering firm responsible for all structural engineering services
for the hotel project.
Jack Gillum –
President, G.C.E. Inc.
Daniel Duncan –
engineer for G.C.E.
Construction Company – General contractor for the hotel project
Havens Steel –
Subcontractor to Eldridge, contracted to provide all structural steel
fabrication and erection for the project.
professionalism is the first ethical issue that comes to mind in this
case. The engineers involved had a responsibility, both ethically and
professionally, to make responsible, educated decisions regarding the
design of the hangers for the walkways. In the course of the trial
the architect, fabricator, and technician all testified that during
the construction they had contacted the project engineer regarding
the structural integrity of the change in the hanger design. They
were all assured that the connection was sound, and the engineer,
Duncan, claimed to have checked the detail when in reality he had
never performed any calculations for the revised design at all. This
was incredibly unprofessional; neglecting to check the safety and
load capacity of a crucial hanger shows his complete disregard for
the public welfare (Rubin and Banick, 1987). Yet another example of
G.C.E.’s lack of professionalism was the failure of the original
design to meet the load carrying requirements set forth in the
building codes. Engineers should check their work redundantly to
ensure that their designs are structurally sound and that they meet
or exceed legal requirements.
negligence is the second ethical issue that comes to mind in this
case. An engineer has a responsibility to his/her employer and most
importantly to society to provide for the public welfare. The early
failure of the atrium roof should have raised the engineers’
awareness, causing them to be more thorough in their oversight of
Havens’ work. In the Hyatt Regency case, peoples’ lives hinged on
G.C.E.’s ability to identify risks and define alternatives. Their
insufficient review of the final design ultimately caused a
large-scale failure and an incredible loss of life. This case is a
poignant reminder that a minute judgment error, let alone gross
negligence, can create a catastrophe. It is important for us to look
to the past and remember such events so we, as engineers, will always
fulfill our obligation to our shipmates, employers, and society.
ethical issue that comes to mind is social vs. legal responsibility.
I think that in the aforementioned two issues, I’ve already covered
the engineers’ responsibility to society, so I’ll focus here on
the legal responsibility. In the Hyatt Regency case, both of the
engineers involved were found guilty of multiple charges, as was
their company. Both individuals lost their licenses, and the company
lost its legal right to function as an engineering firm. Further, the
billions of dollars in damages, which were awarded in civil suits,
made a powerful statement to us as engineers. Engineers are liable,
both financially and criminally, for the results of their decisions.
I agree with the
outcome of this case, although I’m not certain that the engineers
from G.C.E. should be able to practice engineering in other states.
It seems obvious that there was deliberate, willful negligence on
several occasions; and that the disaster was a result of negligence
as opposed to an accidental oversight. I feel that the engineers
should have been banned from practicing engineering in any field in
Had I been the
engineer on this job, I would have been on site regularly to
spot-check Havens’ work after the roof collapse. The failure of the
roof, to me, justifies an on site engineer even if G.C.E. had to eat
the costs incurred. Further, especially in the construction field,
change orders should not be treated so casually. They frequently have
significant repercussions, and should be scrutinized carefully.
I don’t know
that the outcome would be any different if this case were to happen
today. Only in the last few years have engineering programs at
colleges and universities begun to focus on ethics. These kinds of
cases hopefully will become more infrequent as the upcoming crop of
engineers moves into the workplace.
Early 1976 –
Crown Center Redevelopment Corporation (owner) commences project to
design and build a Hyatt Regency hotel in Kansas City, Missouri.
July 1976 –
Gillum-Colaco, Inc. (G.C.E. International, Inc., 1983), a Texas
corporation, selected as the structural engineer for the Hyatt
July 1976 –
summer 1977 – Hyatt project in schematic design development phase.
G.C.E. assisted owner and architect (PBNDML Architects, Planners,
Inc.) with developing various plans for hotel project, and decided on
Late 1977- Early
1978 – Bid set of structural drawings and specifications submitted
by G.C.E., using standard Kansas City, Missouri, building codes.
April 4, 1978 –
Actual contract entered into by G.C.E. and the architect, PBNDML
Architects, Planners, Inc. G.C.E. agrees to provide “all structural
engineering services for a 750-room hotel project located at 2345
McGee Street, Kansas City,
Spring 1978 –
Construction on hotel begins.
August 28, 1978
– Specifications on project issued for construction based on the
American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) standards used by
December 1978 –
Eldridge Construction Company, general contractor on the Hyatt
project, enters into subcontract with Havens Steel Company. Havens
agrees to fabricate and erect the atrium steel for the Hyatt project.
February 1979 – Events and communications between G.C.E. and Havens
determine design change from a single to a double hanger rod box beam
connection for use at the fourth floor walkways. Telephone calls
disputed; however, because of alleged communications between engineer
and fabricator, Shop Drawing 30 and Erection Drawing E3 are changed.
February 1979 –
G.C.E. receives 42 shop drawings from Havens (including Shop Drawing
30 and Erection Drawing E-3) on February 16, and returns them to
Havens stamped with engineering review stamp approval February 26.
October 14, 1979
– Part of the atrium roof collapses while the hotel is under
construction. Inspection team called in, whose contract dealt
primarily with the investigation of the cause of the roof collapse
and created no obligation to check any engineering or design work
beyond the scope of their investigation and contract.
October 16, 1979
– Owner retains an independent engineering firm, Seiden-Page, to
investigate the cause of the atrium roof collapse.
October 20, 1979
– Gillum (President, G.C.E. Inc.) writes owner, stating he is
undertaking both an atrium collapse investigation as well as a
thorough design check of all the members comprising the atrium roof.
November 1979 – Reports and meetings from engineer to
owner/architect, assuring overall safety of the entire atrium.
July 1980 –
Construction of hotel completed, and the Kansas City Hyatt Regency
Hotel opened for business.
July 17, 1981 –
Connections between supporting rods from the ceiling and walkways
across the atrium of the Hyatt Regency Hotel fail, causing 2nd and
4th floor walkways to collapse, killing 114 and injuring over 200.
February 3, 1984
– Missouri Board of Architects, Professional Engineers and Land
Surveyors files complaint against Daniel M. Duncan, Jack D. Gillum
and G.C.E. International Inc., charging gross negligence,
incompetence, misconduct and unprofessional conduct in the practice
of engineering. This action stemmed from their performance of
engineering services in the design and construction of the Hyatt
Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri.
November 1984 –
Duncan, Gillum, and G.C.E. International, Inc. found guilty of gross
negligence, misconduct and unprofessional conduct in the practice of
engineering. Subsequently, both Duncan and Gillum lost their licenses
to practice engineering in the State of Missouri, and G.C.E. had its
certificate of authority as an engineering firm revoked. As a result
of this catastrophe, American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE)
adopts report that states structural engineers have full
responsibility for design projects.
Gillum now practicing engineers in states other than Missouri.
1. Rubin, Robert
and Lisa Banick (1987). “The Hyatt Regency Decision: One View.”
Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities, August 1987.
2. H. Petroski,
“The Kansas City Tragedy: There Is Not Always Strength in Numbers,”
Technology Review, August/September 1982.
3. R. Rubin, L.
Banick, and C. Thornton, “The Hyatt Decision: Two Opinions.”
Civil Engineering, September 1986.
4. Kim Roddis,
“Structural Failures and Engineering Ethics,”Journal of
Structural Engineering, May 1993.
resource, “The Ethics Center,”