While Santa Claus makes his trip around the world, with Rudolph lighting the way, the men and women at NORAD will be tracking his travels and alerting children of his progress.
Santa's magic is powerful and much more technologically advanced than that of NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, said U.S. Army Major Mike Humphreys. Humphreys is stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The command is confident that Santa will be able to handle anything he encounters on his Christmas Eve trip.
"We have satellites in space that pick up heat signatures, and those satellites pick up threats," Humphreys said. "Rudolph's nose comes in quite well on those satellite images. We also have 47 radar sites that are able to pick up Santa once he is on his way."
Along with the radar sites, NORAD also has Santa Cams scattered around the world, Humphreys said. In the era of new media, Santa's videos get posted on YouTube for all to see.
"We are able to watch him as soon as he leaves the North Pole so we have a continuous feed of him," Humphreys said.
About a week before his trip, Santa sits down with officials at NORAD and they provide a "situational update" as they discuss his plans. They map out a route and discuss any weather or security threats, Humphreys said.
"Santa will visit good children around the world," he said. "He doesn't hold a grudge," even if there are some world leaders who are less than welcoming.
NORAD begins tracking at 4 a.m. Mountain Standard Time on Christmas Eve Day. That way they begin following Santa as he makes visits in countries such as Russia and Japan and the continent of Australia, Humphreys said.
Children have a number of ways to check Santa Claus' progress as he travels the globe. The original way is still popular, and that is with a phone call. Children can call 1-800-HI-NORAD (1-877 446-6723) to talk with a volunteer who will tell the child where Santa is on his trip.
Along with a phone call, children also can visit the website at http://www.noradsanta.org/en/index.html, where there is a plug-in for Google Earth that allows children to track Santa on their own computers. Or, if they would like an e-mail detailing Santa's location, children can e-mail on Dec. 24 at email@example.com.
NORAD's connection with Santa began in 1955—even before it was known as NORAD. Back then it was known as the U.S. Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD). During Christmas of 1955, a Colorado Springs Sears Roebuck & Co. posted an advertisement asking children to call Santa, but the wrong phone number was listed, and callers connected to the "red phone" at CONAD, Humphreys said.
"Command Center Director Col. Harry Shoup answered the phone and it was a little girl asking if he was Santa Claus," Humphreys said. "At first he thought it was a joke, and after a while he started playing along."
As more calls came in, Shoup and his staff answered the phones and began using the radar system to track Santa. The tradition continued, even when NORAD, a bi-national air defense command for North America, replaced CONAD in 1958.
Tracking Santa is great fun for the service men and women at NORAD, Humphreys said. NORAD's job is normally much more serious, as it is responsible for aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in the defense of North America, according to its website.
Santa Tracker volunteers and retired military personnel help out every year and have made it a tradition. They decorate the office and serve hot chocolate and have cookies and candies, Humphreys said.
"We really try to make it a festive time for everybody," he said.
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