I have been watching President Obama’s (D) address, Governor Bobby Jindal’s (R-LA) response, and the various related proceedings on television since 9pm. About 11:05pm, I heard an impressive commotion outside. It sounded like helicopters, much like those that pass by regularly on police patrol or hospital flights, but they were much louder than usual.
I headed outside to my porch to see what was happening and, squinting into the night sky, made out the outlines of several virtually-unlit helicopters flying low. I believe they were UH-60 Blackhawks, but I may be mistaken. It was dark and they didn’t have hardly any lights on so my military aircraft identification skills were at a major disadvantage. I am sure there were at least three individual aircraft, and I think there were probably five or six total. As a military aircraft junkie, I thought it was pretty cool.
My suspicion? I think they were returning the designated survivors to Washington. The designated survivors, despite their unfortunate title, are an important part of the continuity planning of the government of the United States. During presidential inaugurations, State of the Union addresses, and other major events, most of our elected leaders are gathered together. Tonight, the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, essentially the entire cabinet, and essentially the entire Congress all stood together in a single building. If, God forbid, the Capitol had been subject to a terrorist attack or natural disaster, there is a small possibility that the government would lack any legitimate successors to the office of president and we would end up with a dangerous power vacuum.
To prevent this unlikely calamity, authorities have long ensured that at least one member of the cabinet eligible to be president is at a remote, undisclosed location during these kinds of major events. Since the 9/11/2001 attacks, several members of Congress have been similarly sequestered. If the Capitol had collapsed tonight killing everybody inside, Attorney General Eric Holder (tonight’s designated survivor) would become president and several yet-unnamed members of Congress would form an interim legislature until the government could be reconstituted.
Interestingly, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center—a facility known to be an important part of the government’s continuity plans—is located in Blumont, Virginia. If you draw a straight line from Mount Weather to Washington, DC, you might notice it passes right over my home town of Herndon. Coincidence?