by Nathan Simmons
Failure: Hartford Civic Center roof collapse
Location: Hartford, Connecticut
Date: January 18, 1978 [A]
Mere hours after housing a sold-out University of Connecticut men’s basketball game [A], the Hartford Civic Center collapsed after days of heavy snowfall. While no one was inside the building at the time of the collapse, had the failure occurred hours earlier during the packed game this roof collapse would have surpassed the amount of casualties of the 9/11 attack [B]. Originally, reports blamed the extreme accumulation of snow on the roof for the collapse, since the roofs design was more flat and therefore allowed ice and snow to pile up. However, after more thorough investigations were conducted, engineers and other investigators reported that there far more serious causes that lead to this near tragedy.
A lack of communication during construction created a bad mix carelessness and improper implementation that would set up this failure. Instead of using the predefined bolt holes, the subcontractors on site decided to weld the panels of the roof to the support beams [C]. While this was enough to hold it together for five years, this on-site modification greatly affected the building’s ability to withstand the elements because the engineer’s original design of the space trusses, done by a complicated computer system, was designed solely for use of the bolt holes [C]. Because of this, the design for loads could not be met, leading to buckling of the top bars and ultimately collapse [C]. So it was not solely Mother Nature that felled the original Hartford Civic Center but rather human error.