|De planes! De planes!|
|The lobby in question|
No, it wasn't until I had the opportunity to break out my smartphone and search for what I was looking for did everything click.
I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel that saw a major disaster.
Picture if you will a hot midwestern afternoon in Kansas City. The brand new Hyatt Regency - a brand new 40-story structure overlooking downtown - was hosting a tea dance. Open for less than one year, the new building drew a crowd of nearly 1,600, and spectators were gathered on the floor to dance, while many others were on the three skywalks which crossed the lobby floor.
What no one had noticed is that a few changes from the design radically affected the ability of these stunning skywalks to handle the weight of people, and at 7:05 p.m., the fourth floor skywalk gave way, collapsing onto the second floor skywalk and onto the dancers below on the lobby floor.
For a few moments, the scene was utter chaos as victims and survivors struggled to make sense of what happened. Since the debris of the fallen skywalks was acting as a dam, rising water from the fire suppression system began to flood the lobby floor, threatening to drown those pinned under the wreckage. All told, 114 people were killed, with another 216 injured. It remained the deadliest structure collapse in American history until the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
And, it left an indelible mark in the history of Kansas City. That's why the city's largest newspaper - the Kansas City Star - created a page called City in Shock to capture the memories of those who survived that terrible event. From people enjoying the surroundings to the first responders to the first reporters on the scene to see what unfolded, memories of the event have been recorded for posterity.
As with any disaster, the skywalk collapse in Kansas City has taught us many valuable lessons. It has been said that the collapse was the impetus for creating urban heavy rescue fire units in cities around the country and the world. As public information officers, we may not know what the next day's duties will challenge us with, but we can be sure that by learning from incidents such as this, we can help get better at our craft.
Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida