A designated survivor, also known as a designated successor, is a member of the United States Cabinet who is selected by the White House chief that remains hidden at an undisclosed location when the President and the country’s top officials are gathered at a single location – usually the State of the Union address.
This individual will assume the presidency is everyone above him or her in the presidential line of succession dies in a crisis.
The survivor’s identity is kept a secret until the day of the event, but the only criteria for this somewhat morbid task is that the person must be a Cabinet member who is a natural-born U.S. citizen.
Official records show the tradition of the designated survivor dates back to 1984, but it is thought to have started earlier than that.
Did you know? There have only been two female designated survivors during the State of the Union in recorded history. President Bill Clinton assigned Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to hang back in 1996 and President George W. Bush selected Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2002.