Hyatt Regency’s failure is one of the world’s most notable infrastructure calamities. It included the collapse of two walkways inside a hotel called the Hyatt Regency City Hotel, located in Kansas. The time of the failure was about 7:00 p.m. at the tea party. It happened on July 17, 1981. The collapse occurred as a result of a violation of certain basic engineering ethics and guidance. This is the main reason why the tragedy is selected as the right subject for this debate. The below is a short recap of how the tragedy occurred. The Hyatt Regency Hotel was already characterized by some drawbacks and setbacks from its initial construction; for instance, one of the major setbacks resulted from the collapse, which had been established on the north end of the building, when connections were subjected to failure. It, however, opened its doors to the public in July 1980 despite the setbacks. The building was characterized by elevated walkways, which were surrounded by a multi-story atrium (Gist et al. 79). The walkways were suspended from the ceiling. Each was about 38 meters long, weighing at 29 tonnes. According to the design, the fourth-floor walkway was built such that it was directly above the second-floor one.
July 17th of the year 1981 was a dark day for the Citizens of Kansas City. An estimated total of one thousand six hundred individuals had gathered in the 40-storey building for a tea party. The event, which was scheduled to begin at around 7:00 PM saw about 40, 16 and 20 spectators on the second, third and fourth walkways respectively. During the construction phase of the building, a major construction flaw had been uncovered. The mistake made the contractors change the original design of the building as “means of solving” this flaw. The change made the connection between the fourth-floor bridge and the atrium floor to hold two times the load it was originally intended to sustain. The support beam, together with the tie rods were responsible for carrying the weight of each of the walkways jointly with the number of people who are on top of it (Gist et al. 79). In essence, this single design flaw was enough to trigger the collapse of the two walkways and consequently the disaster itself.
The connections, as can be predicted, failed together with the two walkways (Fourth Floor & Second Floor) which collapsed to the atrium’s floor. Tons and tons of debris fell on the individuals causing instant deaths and some life maiming injuries. The contractors sought aid from the fire department and rescue teams, which arrived at the site for a 14-hour rescue operation. The disaster was extensively pronounced that typical company-based forklifts could not lift a good portion of the debris. Therefore, cranes were required for this purpose (Poel et al. 51). Fatally injured victims were given some medical help including morphine, which acted as pain reliever pain as they were transferred to the nearest medical facility.
In some cases, amputation needed to be done to help separate the victims from the various debris, which were massively crushing on them. Notably, the scenario compounded when the damaged water systems poured out water into the atrium where the bridges had collapsed. Therefore, turning them off was not an option either since the source was the tanks and not the city mains. The trapped victims now had to worry about the possibility of drowning.
Persuasive Moral Argument
The actual cause of the disaster, as already discussed was a breach of engineering morals and ethics of the highest order. Structural engineer Wayne Lischka was called to get to the bottom of the issue; he found two major design flaws which were undisputable departures from the original ones. The designs of the rods were to blame. The original plans had demanded that the walkways be hanged from the atrium on rods, which were continuous. This portion of the original plan was ignored and hence formed the onset of these problems. The rods’ manufacturer saw that there was no need for the bars to threaded along their length since this meant that they could be easily damaged during the process of walkway hoisting (Vesilind and Alastair 56). They utilized a new design, which decided not to use the long continuous piece of rod and used two sets of the rods instead. One of the sets of the bars was used to connect the second-floor walkway all through to the fourth-floor walkway while the other round of rods were used to connect the fourth floor to the Aurum roof. The arrangement required the fourth-floor beams to support both the walkway itself and the second floor’s walkway’s weight, which was underlying. This arrangement is a clear reason as to why it was a recipe for disaster. That night, the underlying weight of people increased excessively thereby making the building collapsed (Harris et al. 228). The box beams were reported to have split along the welds. The nuts, which were supporting them slipped through the open gaps. Further investigation revealed that the design changes were undertaken with no communication whatsoever. Negligence and lack of proper communications were all causes of the collapse.
A thorough breakdown of the above disaster, which is a product of structural engineering, reveals a great deal of ethical practice, which was thrown right out of the window. The following are some of the ethical objectives of engineering as a profession and how they were contravened as per the Hyatt Regency building collapse. It is important to note that ethics are charged with preventing such occurrences by enacting a moral code by which every engineer is expected to abide by in the event of circumstances (Starrett et al. 23). As per this study’s argument, the disaster implicates the following moral argument.
According to the professional moral code of engineering, engineers have a moral obligation to themselves as engineers, their profession, colleagues as professionals and finally to others as human beings. The engineers who were behind the Hyatt Regency construction did not take into account the responsibilities they had to themselves as engineers and to everyone else as human beings (Vesilind and Alastair 51). The occurrence explains why they exercised negligence on the part of ensuring that the original plan was followed to the letter. Summarily, the engineers involved in the construction violated a strong moral code of conduct of putting the needs of others as a non-priority. Their lack of compliance with the engineering moral code led to the collapse of the building.
Another moral obligation for an engineer is to deliver quality products to the client whichever the case. A building that collapses as soon as a designated number of resident’s step onto its corridors is the exact opposite of quality. The engineers mandated to run the construction of the facility failed substantially to deliver this promise to the client. The result was disastrous which reflected in the deaths of countless individuals while others suffered from life changing injuries. As per the moral standings which emphasized on delivering quality to the client at all times, the engineers failed to do so hence failing the clientele overall (Starret et al. 89). The disaster, which resulted in the deaths of countless individuals, is the reason why engineers should strive to deliver quality work to the client, which ensures not only the full satisfaction of the customer but also the safety of the population as a whole.
According to the engineering codes of ethics and morals, safety and reliability should be the top most codes to keep into consideration. Reliability implies that the clients and the overall users of the establishments in question can depend on the engineer to deliver top notch and quality work, which will ensure their safety. Structural engineers are charged with construction of structures, which will be used widely and expected to hold their own. The various buildings and establishments such as the Golden Gate Bridge are all products of structural engineering. Moreover, the different individuals who use it on a daily basis depended on the engineers for their safety while executing the task. The engineers in charge of constructing the Hyatt Regency hotel did not take into account this fact. Therefore, the constructors displayed an unprecedented amount of negligence. In light of the above factors, one can coherently conclude that the engineers who were in charge of constructing the Hyatt Regency Hotel displayed a vast and pronounced degree of negligence. Therefore, the engineers contravened the moral engineering codes, which emphasize on responsibility, reliability, safety and quality.
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Harris, C. E., et al. Engineering ethics : concepts and cases. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.
Poel, Ibo, and Royakkers. Ethics, technology and engineering : an introduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.
Starrett, Steve, Amy L. Lara, and Carlos Bertha. Engineering ethics : real world case studies. Reston, Virginia: ASCE, 2017. Print.
Vesilind, P A., and Alastair S. Gunn. Hold paramount : the engineer’s responsibility to society. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.