COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Every year on Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Defense Command takes on the mission of following Santa’s Christmas journey across the world. This is the 60th year NORAD is tracking Santa for more than 13 million people in more than 200 countries.
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“We are getting all of the preparations finalized for December 24th,” said Stacey Knott, media specialist for the Track Santa Operations Center. “So our phone teams and our computer teams are all here and making sure everything is ready for the big day.”
But seeking Santa’s sleigh couldn’t happen without the help of volunteers.
“We have 1,500 volunteers who have signed up to volunteer on the 24th in shifts for 23 hours,” said Major Jennifer Stadnick, a senior member of the NORAD Tracks Santa Program.
HOW DOES NORAD TRACK SANTA?
A system of radar stations and satellites monitor all air traffic entering U.S. and Canadian airspace. All aircraft have a code to identify themselves. If an aircraft doesn’t have a code, Gordinier said, NORAD can scramble jets to see who it is and what they’re doing.
Luckily, Santa is good at keeping in touch with NORAD, Gordinier said.
“When he pops up, we call him Big Red One,” he said. “That’s his call sign.”
The nose on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is a tipoff. It gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch, Gordinier said.
WHAT IS SANTA’S ROUTE?
Santa generally departs the North Pole, flies to the international date line over the Pacific Ocean, then begins deliveries in island nations. He then works his way west in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Alaska is usually his last stop before heading home, Gordinier said.
HOW DO CHILDREN PARTICIPATE?
Starting at 10 p.m. Alaska time on Dec. 23, and for 23 hours covering most of Christmas Eve, children can call a toll-free number, 877-446-6723 (877-Hi-NORAD) and speak to a live phone operator about Santa’s whereabouts.
They can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORAD has 157 telephone lines and hundreds of volunteers ready to answer calls, including first lady Michelle Obama, who takes a break from her Hawaii vacation to take forwarded calls.
The sites include games, movies and music. “Santacams” stream videos from various locations.
HOW DID NORAD GET INVOLVED WITH TRACKING SANTA?
A 1955 newspaper advertisement for Sears Roebuck and Co. listed a phone number for “kiddies” to call Santa Claus but got it wrong.
The number was for a crisis phone at Air Operations Center at Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Air Force Col. Harry Shoup took a call from a child and thought he was being pranked. When he figured out he was talking to a little boy, he pretended he was Santa.
More children called. Shoop eventually instructed airmen answering the phone to offer Santa’s radar location as he crossed the globe.
That sparked the tradition that is heading into its 60th year.