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The engineers trying to puzzle out the collapse of the I-35W bridge are at this moment pouring out libations of latte to the gods for the video from one security camera that happened to pick up part of the bridge as it went in the river. Seeing something like this happen, even on such a low-resolution record, is worth a zillion of picking through the wreckage, not just for purposes of assigning blame but more importantly for better, safer bridge services in the future.

A video camera to record, say, two hours of video in a loop is now trivially cheap, as evidenced by the thousands we’re putting on lampposts to watch for crime and terrorists in the streets and throughout stores and parking lots. Shouldn’t every structure of any size have a camera or two as a standard accessory, watching it from a well-chosen rather than accidental point of view, so we can learn from the one in thousands that have an informative episode? These don’t even raise privacy concerns; we don’t need to read license plates to understand a bridge collapse.

And on the same principle, shouldn’t every airliner have three (these are called lipstick cameras because that’s about how big they are) high on the rudder, looking at each elevator and forward at the rest of the plane, recording into the black box data recorder?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.