NORAD's Santa Tracking Operation Grows Larger Every Year

NORAD tracks Santa in 2014. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Charles Marsh)
NORAD tracks Santa in 2014. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Charles Marsh)

They'll be hanging the stockings by their radar stations for a 61st year at the North American Aerospace Defense Command where trackers are readying for their most important mission: Following Santa's progress around the planet and passing alerts to eager children.

Hundreds of volunteers have lined up to answer phones for NORAD, and its revamped website will keep millions posted on the famous elf's Christmas Eve trek.

Preston Schlachter, a spokesman for the command, said he's expecting another record year.

"We're seeing a steady increase," Schlachter said. "Last year was a good year for us -- we had more than 141,000 phone calls."

The command's role in Christmas began with a Gazette mistake and a holiday-minded colonel.

Sears ran an advertisement in the paper asking children to call Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The number Sears provided, though, went to NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canada command that protects the continent from bomber and missile attack.

Col. Harry Shoup answered the Santa calls at his desk inside Cheyenne Mountain. While he was unable to play the Santa role, he did give the kids of Colorado Springs updated radar tracks on the reindeer and sleigh.

The command embraced the mistake in following years and a tradition was born that is now also an online phenomena.

"On our website, we had 22 million unique visits last year," Schlachter said.

The site is www.noradsanta.org.

These days, Santa tracking is paid for through corporate donations, which include setting up a huge call center near the command's headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base. More than 6,000 kids an hour ring into 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723).

The trackers taking the calls have a line of banter ready for children and explain how U.S. and Canadian chase planes are used along with satellites and radar to track Santa.

At a low-end, Santa is estimated to be traveling at 360,000 mph to reach every address on the planet to distribute his gifts, making tracking his route a difficult business.

"This is possible thanks to a tremendous number of military and community contributors," Schlachter said. "There's a huge team that makes this happen."

All of that effort may help children, but the real Christmas miracle happens for mom and dad. The trackers share Santa's location and give kids a serious piece of military intelligence.

"He's only going to come to your house if you are in bed and asleep," Schlachter said.

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