On July 17th, 1981, one of the premier hotels in Kansas City suffered a catastrophic structural collapse that killed dozens of people and became a textbook case study for universities throughout the world. I still pass the building and am struck by how many people were wiped out, instantly, with only a few seconds’ notice as they were in the lobby. To be exact, it was 114 people that died, some of them after hours of being trapped in debris. Another 216 were severely injured. Until the attacks of September 11th, 2001, it remained the worst, and deadliest, structural failure in the history of the country.
It made me realize the people that are most important to a civilization are often those that go unnoticed; those that protect the systematic and physical infrastructure upon which everything else is based. The accountants. The engineers. The construction workers. If they screw up, it all fails. Yet, they rarely get the glory when things go right.
A&E did a special on it a long time ago. The five parts are now posted on YouTube and I made the (mistake?) of watching them this evening. I regret it now, but it’s a bit of history that is important. It makes me feel so upset for those lives that were changed. People lost their spouses, their children. It was horrific.
If you see an engineer or construction worker, thank them. What they’re doing is just as important as doctors, CEOs, or other “elite” professions.
If you’re interested in learning more about the collapse, a very detailed mathematical analysis of the cause was done by the government, which you can download online. I tried to post it, but it’s almost 400 pages of very technical diagrams so I couldn’t get it below 54 megabytes.
I need to find something a little lighter to watch while I work now. That was intense, probably because I drive by the hotel frequently enough to connect with the locations shown.