Imagine if the unimaginable happened: every member of the federal government is gathered in a single location, and there's a nuclear strike. Or a massive earthquake. Or a meteor impact. It would kill everyone in charge of leading the country, and the government would unravel. Luckily, the U.S. government has thought of a solution for such a problem: the designated survivor.
This may sounds like something out of a TV show, and, yes, it's the basis of the drama Designated Survivor, but that show is based on a very real concept. Before an event where the country's leadership will converge in one location—such as The State Of The Union or a presidential inauguration—the President and top presidential aides choose someone to skip the event, just in case catastrophe strikes. The designated survivor is usually a member of the Cabinet, though for the past decade, a second survivor from the congressional leadership has also been assigned. When every other official is heading toward the big event, the designated survivors are escorted to a secure government facility to wait out the time before the President is safely in the White House.
Despite this big responsibility, there's no guarantee the designated survivor will actually become president if the worst happens. That's up to the order laid out in the Presidential Succession Act, which determines the exact line of succession in executive power. If the Secretary of Agriculture was the designated survivor, for instance, but the Vice President survived, the VP would still become President if disaster struck. Learn more about presidential succession and the U.S. government in the videos below.