I. Intro-

This website will focus on the events of the Hyatt Regency walkways and how the event came to pass. Its aim is to make the whole event clear to everyone what happened and how it changed the industry.  The collapse happened July 17, 1981 on a Hyatt Regency walkway in Kansas City Missouri during a dance, where people were gathered both on and off of the walkways.  The hotel had only been in operation for a year at the time of the collapse.  There were 114 deaths and 216 others were injured.

A picture of the walkways after the collapse. (Structural Engineers Association – International, 2006, seaint.org)

II. Background-

This structure was built by two companies. One company, Gillum-Colaco, were the consulting structural engineers who built the whole structure. The second company who was involved was Havens Steel Company who oversaw the production of materials involved in the project and also fabricated and raised the walkway. The collapse was caused due to a design flaw involving the rods that held the structure in place. The connections that supported the rods failed. After construction was underway new plans were submitted by Havens and though signed off by Gullum-Colaco were not thoroughly reviewed.  Havens changed the design from a one rod connector to a two rod connector to make the building process more efficient but actually weakened the support by doubling the stress on the fourth floor walkway.


Gillum-Colaco and Havens had communication problems while this project was underway. Gillum-Colaco prepared the blueprints for the project which Havens used as the final building plan. Gillum-Colaco signed off on the final design which was sent from Havens. The project then began construction otherwise the design flaw would have been discovered in the connector rods. Construction on the Hyatt-Regency hotel in Kansas City, MO stated in 1978 and was opened in 1980.


III. Progression of what happened-Where the flaws wer

The hotel’s schematic design was developed by PBNDML Architects, Planners, Inc which began in July 1976, the entire building construction followed standard Kansas City building codes when construction began.  Between January and February 1979,  serious issues occurred between Havens Steel Co. which was the fabricator of the Hyatt Regency and G.C.E. International, Inc who was the building engineering designer.  “The firm Gillum-Colaco, Inc. did not actually perform the structural engineering services on the project; instead, they subcontracted the responsibility for performing all of the structural engineering services for the Hyatt Regency Hotel project to their subsidiary firm, Jack D. Gillum & Associates, Ltd. (hereinafter referenced as G.C.E.).” (Ethics)  These issues resulted in Havens Steel Co. modifying the original design of the walkways with the goal of simplifying construction.  These modifications which were modifying the rods from a single box beam connector to a double after being reviewed at Havens was sent for approval to G.C.E. and was stamped with the engineering approval stamp on February 1979.  “Even as originally designed, the walkways were barely capable of holding up the expected load, and would have failed to meet the requirements of the Kansas City Building Code.5” (Ethics)

When construction began in April 1978, standards for the specifications issued for construction by Havens (fabricators) were based on the American Institute of Steel Construction. During construction there was an event that occurred on October 14th, 1979 that may have been a warning sign of future things that were around the corner, a 2700 sq ft section of the atrium roof collapsed which indicated some possible design or engineering deficiencies.  However, the inspection team’s signed agreement was only to investigate the cause of the atrium roof collapse and had no obligation to verify or review any architectural designing or engineering work.  However, the investigation into the accident found that one of the roof connections on the north end of the atrium failed.  In November, 1979 after the investigation all parties involved in construction assured safety over the atrium and building they then continued on and finished and in July 1980 the Hyatt Regency Hotel opened.

Hanging rods still suspended in the ceiling after the box hinges gave out.

View of the damaged box hinges.

The methods used in supporting the rods from the ceiling were the walkway’s ultimate weakness. This was overlooked by structural engineer of the building and a few minor changes and low cost materials could have avoided this collapse.  On July 17th, 1981, the walkway’s six connector points began to weaken due to the weight being distributed upon it and connection point at box beam 9UB was gradually weakening over the sixteen months the hotel has been open.  However, the load being weighted upon it on this evening of the party which should have been able to hold but was becoming too much due to the architectural errors.  Had the design been up to weight codes that should have been tested on, then the walkways would have not been stressed at all.  At 7:05 pm the box beam begins to buckle under the gradual stress of the tea partiers standing on the walkways and the box hinge gives way and the beam supporting the walkways rip away from the weakly supported hinge.  The fourth-floor walkway collapses onto the second-floor walkway killing 114 and injuring over 200.  The hangar rod connections that were in the original schematics and changed after communication disputes and a want for simplification by Havens was to blame for the collapsing walkways.  The modification in the design which was from a single hangar rod box beam connection to a double hangar rod box connection which ended up doubling the weight on the connector thus resulting in the walkway’s demise.

Clip of collapse. (Start clip at 20sec) Watch the walkways collapse

V. Analysis of the case

It was “component failure accident” because the failure was linked in an anticipated sequence. The Hyatt walkway collapse was a direct result of doubling the load on the suspension hanger rod-to-box beam connections through a change in the construction detail and even before the changes were made the current design was still not up to code to handle the weight (Moncarz, 2000). The fabricator determined that the continuous rod design that would have held floors 2 and 4 walkways was unworkable; he contacted the project engineer by telephone to request a change to an offset double-rod design. The project manager indicated that the change was acceptable from a structural standpoint, but he asked that the fabricator submit the plan in writing for a formal approval of the design change. The new plan was submitted in writing but not thoroughly reviewed G.C.E., and a change was made that had the effect of doubling the stress on the deficient connection (Hoke, 2011).

(The Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse July 1981 commandsafety.com)

Shrivastava would  classify this as an industrial crisis because it brought about a huge change in the industrial and construction work. Victims in the case (victims were second-party) and because there were more than 100, it does qualify as a “catastrophe” although not as a “systems accident”. There were 114 deaths and 216 injuries in this high risk environment.

VI. Case Outcome and aftermath

In the aftermath of the accident, the Missouri State licensing board suspended Gillum’s license immediately and also took legal action against Gillum and Duncan to properly discipline them for their failure to meet building codes (Roddis, 1993). After five years of litigation, the administrative court found Gillum and GCE ultimately responsible for the collapse and charged Gillum with: unprofessional conduct, misconduct, and gross negligence. Gillum’s license was permanently revoked in the state of Missouri and Texas as well as his membership with American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Because of the collapse, Kansas City took drastic measures to overhaul their building regulations and now a state appointed engineer is required to check all load bearing connections before the city will approve a building. ASCE also took measures to change  their rules and now when an engineer places their stamp on any plans, it is their direct responsibility to ensure the plans are sound and ensure the details in the blueprints are followed through with what is actually built (Manion & Evan 2002). A modest estimated amount of $140 million in donations was given to the victims and their families in an uprise of support from the community and country. The Hyatt Regency in Kansas City is still in business and their lobby has been redesigned with walkways supported by columns rather than suspended from the ceiling (Hauck, 1983).

What the Kansas City Hyatt Regency's lobby looks like now. (eBookers.com, 2011)

VII. Conclusion

Two companies were in charge of building the walkways, Gilium-Colaco and Havens Steel Company. There were communication issues between the two companies and the blueprint was used as the final draft without any revisions or reviews, despite being signed off upon. The design also was changed from one continuous rod to two offset rods in order to simplify construction. Neither company made sure that the project was completed safely and accurately according to the plans leading to their charge of negligence after the collapse.

A closer look at the collapse. (Engineering Ethics, 2009, ethics.tamu.edu)

The original goal of the walkways was to make them have a simplified construction so that the building could be completed faster and more efficiently. Before construction was completed there was a collapse in the original construction of the walkways that resulted in the atrium collapsing. An investigation of the event only focused on the cause of the collapse rather than any review any architectural designs.

It was a component failure accident, as the event occurred in an anticipated sequence. This would be considered an industrial crisis as it resulted in a huge overhall of the industry and those involved in the construction were found guilty of negligence. All victims, the partygoers, were second party victims, as they had no say in the design of the walkways.

Gilium had his license revoked in the state of Missouri as a result of the collapse. After five years in the courts, Gillium and GCE were found responsible for the collapse and Gillium was charged with negligence and misconduct.  Kansas City now requires state appointed engineers check all load bearing connections and engineers are responsible for all of the plans stamped with their stamps. The Hyatt Regency stayed in business and redesigned their lobby and walkways to be support by the floors rather than the ceilings so that this type of catastrophe could never happen again.

Accidents like this can be prevented, as this case was that of negligence of all the parties involved in the construction of the walkways. Engineers and construction companies need to be more liable for any projects that are involved. When there is no liability for approving plans and blueprints, companies and engineers won’t necessarily pay attention to any details that may be hazardous or that need to undergo further testing.

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Hoke, T. (2011). Ensuring the Safety, Health, and Welfare of the Public. Civil Engineering (08857024), 81(7), 42-43.

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Pfatteicher, S. A. (2000). “The Hyatt Horror”: Failure and Responsibility in American Engineering. Journal Of Performance Of Constructed Facilities, 14(2), 62.

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