Who Is America's 'Designated Survivor'? It's A Real Position That The Government Takes Seriously

Kiefer Sutherland is always getting himself into trouble, isn’t he? First, he has to save the world like five times and he only has 24 hours to do it, and now, everyone in Congress dies and he’s the new President of the United States. ABC’s new show, Designated Survivor, is a dramatized version of the very real thing that happens during every State of the Union address — but who is the real designated survivor for America?

According to the Senate Historical Office, this “designated survivor” business is said to have started during the Cold War, when all of the United States was afraid that the Soviets were going to drop a nuclear weapon on the country at any moment. It could have been earlier than that, but the U.S. government only began letting the country know about the whole thing in the 1980s. The designated survivor is basically to make sure that, in case of a giant attack or disaster, there is at least one person in the government who can keep things moving. Politico reports that the line of succession to the presidency is as follows: Vice President, the Speaker of the House; the president pro tempore of the Senate; the Secretary of State; the Treasury Secretary; the Defense Secretary; and the Attorney General. If all of those people are somehow killed, the designated survivor takes over.

Who is it? It changes every year and it’s not announced until the night of the speech, both for security reasons. During Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address, it was Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, according to ABC News. Politico reported that the designated survivor, whomever it may be, is given “presidential–level security” for the duration of the evening, and a cabinet official and a military aide comes along, because they’re the ones who know those all-important nuclear codes. 

Dan Glickman, who was the Secretary of Agriculture under Bill Clinton, was tapped to be the designated survivor in 1997, and he told Mic about his experience. According to Glickman, he was encouraged to leave Washington, D.C. for the evening, and he opted to visit his daughter in New York City. He flew up in an Air Force plane with “a doctor, Secret Service agents, and a military officer who retained the nuclear codes.” Glickman said that he didn’t “get into detail with them on that,” which seems like a missed opportunity, doesn’t it?

Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who was the designated survivor in 2011 under Barack Obama, told Mic that the position is, “a high privilege and an honor to serve in that capacity and you feel the responsibility with that position — but [you're] always hoping nothing happens. It's one of those evenings that will be stored in the memory bank forever."

It must be an honor, to be trusted enough that you could be the president if everything goes sideways, but to tell you the truth, I would be stressed out about it! I bet that most designated survivors, like Kiefer Sutherland’s character on the show, are not really equipped for the presidency. Let’s hope that he learns fast on Designated Survivor.

Images: ABC (3)

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