Notable Ethics Failures

Hyatt Regency Walkway Disaster

A walkway in the atrium of the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City, Missouri collapsed during a dance contest killing 114 people. The hotel was built in 1980 and the collapse occurred in 1981. Construction issues led to a subtle but 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 the second floor walkway. 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.

The change was motivated by a complaint from the manufacturer of the threaded rods who noted that about four floors worth of the rods would have to be threaded and much of this length would have damaged threads after hoisting upper story walkways into place. The manufacturer suggested twice as many smaller rods. Moreover, the rods and their bolts were suggested to be placed in welded joints connecting two C beams - the weakest part of the beams. The designers approved the change proposed by the manufacturer without checking for possible consequences.

Engineers with the design firm were convicted of gross negligence, misconduct, and unprofessional conduct in the practice of engineering. They lost their membership in ASCE. The design company lost its license to engineer structures.

The company's former chief engineer shares his experiences with others to this day so that the mistakes which led to the Hyatt Regency disaster will not be repeated.