Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse
Staff posted on October 24, 2006 |
Walkway Collapse
Intact Hanger Rods from fourth Floor Walkway Opening Photo of intact hanger rods from fourth floor walkway opening.
General View of the Lobby Floor General view of the lobby floor, during the first day of the investigation.
Close-up Photo of the Hanger Rod Threads Close-up photo of the hanger rod threads, washer and supporting nut. Note the deformation caused in the washer as the beam slipped around it.
Close-up of One of the Fourth Floor Beams Close-up of one of the fourth floor beams.
Close-up of One of the Fourth Floor Beams Close-up of one of the fourth floor beams.
Close-up of One of the Fourth Floor Beams Close-up of one of the fourth floor beams.
Underside View of One of the Fourth Floor Beams Underside view of one of the fourth floor beams.

Following the accident investigations, on February 3, 1984, the Missouri Board of Architects, Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors filed a 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 in connection with their performance of engineering services in the design and construction of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The NBS report noted that:

The hanger rod detail actually used in the construction of the second and fourth floor walkways is a departure from the detail shown on the contract drawings. In the original arrangement each hanger rod was to be continuous from the second floor walkway to the hanger rod bracket attached to the atrium roof framing. The design load to be transferred to each hanger rod at the second floor walkway would have been 20.3 kips (90 kN). An essentially identical load would have been transferred to each hanger rod at the fourth floor walkway. Thus the design load acting on the upper portion of a continuous hanger rod would have been twice that acting on the lower portion, but the required design load for the box beam hanger rod connections would have been the same for both walkways (20.3 kips (90 kN)).

The hanger rod configuration actually used consisted of two hanger rods: the fourth floor to ceiling hanger rod segment as originally detailed on the second to fourth floor segment which was offset 4 in. (102 mm) inward along the axis of the box beam. With this modification the design load to be transferred by each second floor box beam-hanger rod connection was unchanged, as were the loads in the upper and lower hanger rod segments. However, the load to be transferred from the fourth floor box beam to the upper hanger rod under this arrangement was essentially doubled, thus compounding an already critical condition. The design load for a fourth floor box beam-hanger rod connection would be 40.7 kips (181 kN) for this configuration. ...

Had this change in hanger rod detail not been made, the ultimate capacity of the box beam-hanger rod connection still would have been far short of that expected of a connection designed in accordance with the Kansas City Building Code, which is based on the AISC Specification. In terms of ultimate load capacity of the connection, the minimum value should have been 1.67 times 20.3, or 33.9 kips (151 kN). Based on test results the mean ultimate capacity of a single-rod connection is approximately 20.5 kips (91 kN), depending on the weld area. Thus the ultimate capacity actually available using the original connection detail would have been approximately 60% of that expected of a connection designed in accordance with AISC Specifications.

During the 26-week administrative law trial that ensued, G.C.E. representatives denied ever receiving the call about the design change. Yet, Gillum affixed his seal of approval to the revised engineering design drawings.

Results of the hearing concluded that G.C.E., in preparation of their structural detail drawings, "depicting the box beam hanger rod connection for the Hyatt atrium walkways, failed to conform to acceptable engineering practice. [This is based] upon evidence of a number of mistakes, errors, omissions and inadequacies contained on this section detail itself and of [G.C.E.'s] alleged failure to conform to the accepted custom and practice of engineering for proper communication of the engineer's design intent." Evidence showed that neither due care during the design phase, nor appropriate investigations following the atrium roof collapse were undertaken by G.C.E. In addition, G.C.E. was found responsible for the change from a one-rod to a two-rod system. Further, it was found that even if Havens failed to review the shop drawings or to specifically note the box beam hanger rod connections, the engineers were still responsible for the final check. Evidence showed that G.C.E. engineers did not "spot check" the connection or the atrium roof collapse, and that they placed too much reliance on Havens.

Due to evidence supplied at the Hearings, a number of principals involved lost their engineering licenses, a number of firms went bankrupt, and many expensive legal suits were settled out of court. In November, 1984, Duncan, Gillum, and G.C.E. International, Inc. were found guilty of gross negligence, misconduct, and unprofessional conduct in the practice of engineering. Subsequently, Duncan and Gillum lost their licenses to practice engineering in the State of Missouri (and later, Texas), and G.C.E. had its certificate of authority as an engineering firm revoked.

As a result of the Hyatt Regency Walkways Collapse, the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) adopted a report that states structural engineers have full responsibility for design projects.

Both Duncan and Gillum are now practicing engineers in states other than Missouri and Texas.

The responsibility for and obligation to design steel-to-steel connections in construction lies at the heart of the Hyatt Regency Hotel project controversy. To understand the issues of negligence and the engineer's design responsibility, we must examine some key elements associated with professional obligations to protect the public. This will be discussed in class from three perspectives: the implicit social contract between engineers and society; the issue of public risk and informed consent; and negligence and codes of ethics of professional societies.

Ethical Issues of the Case: Points For Discussion

This case centers on the question of who is responsible for design failure. As an ethical issue,

  • Who is ultimately responsible for checking the safety of final designs as depicted in shop drawings?

When we take the implicit social contract between engineers and society, the issue of public risk and informed consent, and codes of ethics of professional societies into account, it seems clear that the engineer must assume this responsibility when any change in design involving public safety carries a licensed engineer's signature. Yet,

  • In terms of meeting building codes, what are the responsibilities of the engineer? The fabricator? The owner?

If we assume the engineer in the Hyatt case received the fabricator's telephone call requesting a verbal approval of the design change for simplifying assembly, what would make him approve such an untenable change? Some possible reasons include:

  • Saving time.
  • Saving money.
  • Avoiding a call for reanalysis, thereby raising the issue of a request to recheck all connector designs following the previous year's atrium roof collapse.
  • Following his immediate supervisor's orders.
  • Looking good professionally by simplifying the design.
  • Misunderstanding the consequences of his actions.
  • Any combination of the above.

These reasons do not, however, fall within acceptable standards of engineering professional conduct. Instead, they pave the way for legitimate charges of negligence, incompetence, misconduct, and unprofessional conduct in the practice of engineering. When the engineer's actions are compared to professional responsibilities cited in the engineering codes of ethics, an abrogation of professional responsibilities by the engineer in charge is clearly demonstrated. But what of the owner, or the fabricator?

What if the call was not made? While responsibility rests with the fabricator for violating building codes, would the engineers involved in the case be off the hook? Why or why not?

The Hyatt Regency walkways collapse has resulted in a nationwide re- examination of building codes. In addition, professional codes on structural construction management practices are changing in significant ways.

  • What measures can professional societies take to ensure catastrophes like the Hyatt Regency Walkways Collapse do not occur?
  • Should Gillum and Duncan be allowed to practice engineering in other states? Why or why not? What is the engineering society's responsibility in this realm?

Annotated Bibliography

Davis, Michael. "Thinking Like An Engineer: The Place of a Code of Ethics in the Practice of a Profession." Philosophy & Public Affairs. Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring 1991), pp. 150–167. (See also "Explaining Wrongdoing." Journal of Social Philosophy. Vol. 20, Numbers 1&2 (Spring/Fall 1989), pp. 74–90.

In these lucid essays, Davis argues that "a code of professional ethics is central to advising individual engineers how to conduct themselves, to judging their conduct, and ultimately to understanding engineering as a profession." Using the now infamous Challenger disaster as his model, Davis discusses both the evolution of engineering ethics as well as why engineers should obey their professional codes of ethics, from both a pragmatic and ethically- responsible point of view. Essential reading for any graduating engineering student.

Throughout the hearings, Engineering News Report, published by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), kept vigilant watch over the case. Of particular interest are the following articles:

"Hyatt Walkway Design Switched," July 30, 1981.

"Hyatt Hearing Traces Design Change," July 26, 1984.

"Difference of Opinion: Hyatt Structural Engineer Gillum Disputes NBS Collapse Report," September 6, 1984.

"Weld Aided Collapse, Witness Says," September 13, 1984.

"Judge Bars Hyatt Tests," September 20, 1984.

"Hyatt Engineers Found Guilty of Negligence," November 21, 1985.

"Hyatt Ruling Rocks Engineers," November 28, 1985.

"Construction Rescuers Sue," August 7, 1986.

Glickman, Theodore S., and Michael Gough (eds.). Readings in Risk. Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future, 1990.

This is an excellent collection of essays on managing technology- induced risk. As a starting-off point, of particular worth to the engineers are the essays: "Probing the Question of Technology- Induced Risk" and "Choosing and Managing Technology-Induced Risk," by M. Granger Morgan; "Defining Risk," by Baruch Fischhoff, Stephen R. Watson, and Chris Hope; "Risk Analysis: Understanding 'How Safe is Safe Enough?'," by Stephen L. Derby and Ralph L. Keeney; "Social Benefit Versus Technological Risk," by Chauncey Starr; and "The Application of Probabilistic Risk Assessment Techniques to Energy Technologies," by Norman C. Rasmussen.

Gibble, Kenneth (ed.). Management Lessons from Engineering Failures. Proceedings of a symposium sponsored by the Engineering Management Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers in conjunction with the ASCE Convention in Boston, October 28, 1986. New York: American Society of Civil Engineers, 1986.

This short work examines a variety of engineering failures, including those involving individual planning and project failures. In particular, see Irvin M. Fogel's essay, "Avoiding 'Failures' Caused by Lack of Management" and Gerald W. Farquhar's "Lessons to be Learned in the Management of Change Orders in Shop Drawings," both excellent illustrations for use with the Hyatt case.

Hall, John C. "Acts and Omissions." The Philosophical Quarterly. Vol. 39, No. 157 (October 1989), pp. 399–408.

This article is a discussion of the legal and ethical ramifications of professional choices and activities, both active and passive.

"Hyatt Notebook: Parts I and II." Kansas City. October 1984 and November 1984.

These are two articles written by a Kansas City television reporter for the local magazine Kansas City, detailing highlights from the 26-week Hyatt Regency Walkways Collapse hearings.

Janney, Jack R. (ed.). Guide to Investigation of Structural Failures, prepared for the American Society of Civil Engineers' Research Council on Performance of Structures, sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, US Department of Transportation, Contract No. DOTFH118843, 1979.

This short volume gives an excellent overview of structural failure investigation procedures, and discusses failure causes by project type; structural type; and material, connection, and foundation type. In addition, discussions on field operations, project management, and data analysis and reports are offered. Of particular interest to those studying the Hyatt case are sections 4.5–4.7, "Failure Causes Classified by Connection Type" and "Steel to Steel Connections."

Martin, Mike W. and Roland Schinzinger. Ethics in Engineering (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1989.

An excellent text-book treatment of ethical issues in engineering. Of particular interest to this case is Part Two, "The Experimental Nature of Engineering," and Part Three, "Engineers, Management, and Organizations."

McK Norrie, Kenneth. "Reasonable: The Keystone of Negligence." Journal of Medical Ethics. Vol. 13, No. 2 (June 1987), pp. 92–94.

This article is a brief discussion of legal liability for professional actions. "The more knowledge, skill and experience a person has, the higher standard the law subjects that person to" (p. 92).

Missouri Board for Architects, Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors vs. Daniel M. Duncan, Jack D. Gillum and G.C.E. International, Inc., before the Administrative Hearing Commission, State of Missouri, Case No. AR840239, Statement of the Case, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Decision rendered by Judge James B. Deutsch, November 14, 1985, 442 pp.

This volume contains the findings, conclusions of law and the final decision of the Hyatt Regency Walkways Collapse case, as rendered by Judge James B. Deutsch. The volume contains both the findings of the case and an excellent general discussion of responsibilities of the professional engineer.

Pfrang, Edward O. and Richard Marshall. "Collapse of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Walkways." Civil Engineering-ASCE, July 1982, pp. 65–68.

Official findings of the failure investigation conducted by the National Bureau of Standards, US Department of Commerce. Among its conclusions was this: "Even if the now-notorious design shift in the hanger rod details had not been made, the entire design of all three walkways, including the one which did not collapse, was a significant violation of the Kansas City Building Code."

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