Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The collapse caught in memory

This past weekend, I paid a quick visit to Kansas City, Missouri for a woodworking conference. It's an annual tradition, and I get to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, discover new woodworking techniques and salivate over the really sweet new tools for sale. And, are there ever sweet new tools for sale!
De planes!  De planes!  
There was something else, though, about the hotel we were staying at. For some strange reason, I felt as if I had seen the lobby before, even though I had never been to Missouri.

The lobby in question
It was beautiful and spacious, but it wasn't one of those large atrium hotels with all of the rooms arranged around a tall open court. It had some interesting architecture with some distinctive cantilevered stairs and a large circular opening at the top of the escalators to the mezzanine level. But, that's not what caught my attention.

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


  1. Thanks for sharing this information. This was my second visit to that hotel. There is always history, no matter how new.

  2. Wow...you brought back some memories from a dusty shelf. I remember hearing the news that night and could instantly picture the scene...I had stayed at the Hyatt KC 3 months prior prepping for a major client event in October. My reactions were tri-fold: as a trained first responder at a mass casualty scene; as a PR/event professional faced with loss of a necessary specialized venue; and as a former hotel guest remembering specific employees and wondering if they were alive, dead, injured. Hard to put into words even now that evening.