News & Politics

Where's Santa Now? Track the Jolly Fellow's Progress Via NORAD

Santa tracker volunteers U.S. Navy Petty Officer Brandon Wright, center, and his wife, Petty Officer Emily Wright, left, take phone calls from children asking where Santa is and when he will deliver presents to their homes, inside a phone-in center during the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Operation at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. Once a year, hundreds of volunteers, from generals to people who live near NORAD at Peterson Air Force Base, take calls from children around the world who want to find out where Santa is. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Every year, the good folks at NORAD in Colorado Springs present a Christmas miracle for 130,000 kids around the world. Volunteers design and build unique 3-D tracking software so that children can follow the progress of Santa Claus as he speeds around the globe bringing gifts to all good little girls and boys.

Dozens of volunteers man the phones for kids who call in and want to remind Santa of a favored gift or, as is the case many times,  ask Santa to give something special to a brother, or sister, or mom or dad.

But they all want to know where Santa is. NORAD explains:

“Our constellation of defense satellites “uses infrared tracking to keep pinpoint accuracy on the heat signature from Rudolph’s nose,” NORAD says in its promotional materials. “Ground based radar tracking sites relay global positioning updates to our elite fighter pilots, who often escort Santa’s sleigh through rough weather.”

It’s a labor of love that began by accident 60 years ago:

60 years ago, a local Sears (SHLD) store in Colorado Springs ran a dial Santa ad. Except the number was a misprint. Instead of listing the number for Sears’ Santa hotline, it posted the number for the Continental Air Defense Command center.

On Christmas Eve 1955, Colonel Harry Shoup began receiving calls from kids asking to speak with Santa Claus. Shoup worked at the operations department for the air defense center, now known as NORAD, so the call must have come as a bit of a surprise.

Instead of telling the kids that they dialed the wrong number, Shoup said that he wasn’t Santa Claus but he could track him on radar. All night, Shoup and his team fielded calls, giving kids details about Santa’s location as he and his reindeer flew through the sky to deliver gifts to children.

A tradition was born, and NORAD has opened up its phone lines for its annual Santa Tracker ever since. Last year, hundreds of volunteers, including many NORAD employees and Michelle Obama, fielded 135,000 calls from 234 countries. That’s 40 calls per volunteer per hour.

The original call center was set up by AT&T (T, Tech30), which had already served as NORAD’s telecommunications provider. AT&T eventually spun off Lucent, which later spun off Avaya (AVYA) — the company that now helps manage NORAD’s crazy call volume on Christmas Eve.

“The Santa Tracker uses the same technology that’s powering the government’s critical systems,” said Susan Keys, head of Avaya Government Solutions. “Of course, it’s more sophisticated tech today than it was 60 years ago.”

Here’s this year’s version of the Santa Tracker — a work of art to be sure.

Going to be on the move and still want to keep track of Santa? Yeah…there’s an app for that.