Most of us are aware that a "designated driver" is a person who is selected to stay sober and drive others home after they have had too much to drink. However, not many people know what a "designated survivor" is.
What is a "designated survivor?
A designated survivor (or designated successor) is a member of the United States Cabinet who is appointed to be at a physically distant, secure, and undisclosed location when the President and the country's other top leaders (e.g., Vice President and Cabinet members) are gathered at a single location, such as during State of the Union addresses and presidential inaugurations such as President Obama's recent second inauguration.
A designated survivor is intended to maintain continuity of government in the event of a catastrophic occurrence which kills many officials in the presidential line of succession. If such an event occurred, killing both the President and Vice President, the surviving official highest in the line – possibly the designated survivor – would become the Acting President of the United States under the Presidential Succession Act.
Only Cabinet members who are eligible to succeed to the presidency (i.e., natural-born citizens over the age of 35) are chosen as designated survivors. The designated survivor is provided presidential-level security and transport for the duration of the event.
Since 2005, members of Congress have also served as designated survivors.
Who was the designated survivor of the 2013 inauguration?
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was not at the inauguration ceremony for a very good reason. He was the designated survivor who spent the morning at an undisclosed location, according to the NY Daily News.
His responsibility was to reconstitute and lead the U.S. government if a catastrophe had wiped out the rest of the administration, the Cabinet and all 535 members of Congress during the ceremony.
The inauguration passed without incident, and Shinseki was able to join the administration later in the day.
So now you know what a designated survivor is. Thankfully, a designated survivor has never had to carry out his or her duties.