After 4 months of top-secret training, NORAD on high alert: Where's Santa?
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, COLO. - Just how does NORAD get Santa Claus's flight path onto its computer screens every Christmas Eve?
Tracking Santa's travels is a celebrated tradition at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and insiders here drop hints about how they do it - "ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras," radar, satellites and Canadian Forces fighter jets.
But any inquiry into the particulars receives a polite rebuff and a cryptic explanation involving the magic of Christmas.
"NORAD Tracks Santa" began in 1955 when a Colorado Springs newspaper ad invited children to talk to Santa on a hotline.
The phone number had a typo, and dozens of kids wound up dialing the Colorado Springs number of NORAD's predecessor.
The military officers on duty played along and began passing along reports on Santa's progress. It has become a cherished ritual at NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canada command that monitors the North American skies and seas from this Air Force base located just outside Colorado Springs.
"It's really ingrained in the NORAD psyche and culture," said Canadian Forces Lt. Gen. Marcel Duval, the deputy commander of NORAD who pitches in to field French-language calls on Christmas Eve. "It's a goodwill gesture from all of us, on our time off, to all the kids on the planet."
In the 21st century, Norad Tracks Santa now has not just the phone line - 877-HI-NORAD - but also a Web site ( noradsanta.org ), a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and apps for mobile phones.
Last year, NORAD Tracks Santa answered 74,000 calls and 3,500 e-mails, and organizers expect to top that this year.
It takes four months of planning to marshal the 1,200 volunteers, 100 telephones, 30 laptops and two projection-TV screens the job requires, NORAD spokeswoman Joyce Frankovis said. All the labor is volunteer. Google, Verizon, Air Canada, defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and others chip in.
This year, the volunteers included first lady Michelle Obama. A telephone link from Hawaii, where the Obamas are on vacation, allowed her to answer 13 phone calls asking for Santa's location.
The White House said she took calls for 40 minutes.
It's believed to be the first time that a first lady joined in, said NORAD spokeswoman Jamie Graybeal.
- Associated Press