ABC’s new political thriller, “Designated Survivor,” stars “24” alum Kiefer Sutherland as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Tom Kirkman, who becomes the Acting President of the United States when a catastrophic attack on the Capitol during the State of Union address ensures that everyone before him in the presidential line of succession is wiped out. Kirkman is a designated survivor.
Does this practice of selecting a designated survivor really happen in the United States? The answer is a resounding yes. A designated survivor, according to the Presidential Succession Act, is a usually a member of the United States cabinet who is arranged to be physically away from the Capitol when the country’s top leaders convene at one location. Usually, all cabinet members are present in one location during the presidential inauguration and during the State of the Union addresses.
Having a designated survivor ensures that there is a cabinet member who can lead the country in the event of a catastrophic occurrence. In ABC’s new series, Kirkman becomes the designated survivor. When the Capitol is bombed, Kirkman finds himself being sworn-in as the President of the country during a crisis. The designated survivor is provided with presidential level security and transportation during the event.
The concept of designated survivor rose during the cold war when it became clear that the enemies of U.S. could easily wipe out all cabinet members with a nuclear missile during the State of the Union, according to The Washington Post. Hence, the informal practice began for the President and his top aides to choose one cabinet that won’t attend the inauguration or State of Union address.
The practice of selecting a designated survivor became more formal and important after 9/11.
ABC’s “Designated Survivor” uses this concept and explores a conspiracy while the FBI scrambles to find the person responsible for the bombing.
Watch Sutherland in “Designated Survivor” on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.