Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The history of NORAD Tracking Santa.

Colorado Springs-based Sears store ran an advertisement encouraging children to call Santa Claus on a special telephone hotline. Due to a printing error, the phone number that was printed was the hotline for the Director of Operations at the Continental Air Defense (CONAD). Colonel Harry Shoup took the first Santa call on Christmas Eve of 1955 from a six-year old boy who began reciting his Christmas list. Shoup didn't find the call funny, but after asking the mother of the second caller what was happening, then realizing the mistake that occurred, he instructed his staff to give Santa's position to any child who called in[1].

Three years later, the governments of the United States and Canada combined their national domestic air defenses into the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), but the tradition continued. Now major media outlets as well as children call in to inquire on Santa's location. NORAD relies on volunteers to help make Santa tracking possible. Many employees at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base spend part of their Christmas Eve with their families and friends at NORAD's Santa Tracking Operations Center in order to answer phones and provide Santa updates to thousands of callers[2]. About 800 service members and their families volunteer, and shift run from 2 a.m. MST December 24 to 2 a.m. Christmas morning. [3]

In 1997, Canadian Major Jamie Robertson took over the program and expanded it to the Web where corporation-donated services have given the tradition global accessibility[4]. In 2004, NORAD received more than 35,000 e-mails, 55,000 calls and 912 million hits on the Santa-tracking website from 181 countries. In 2005, more than 500 volunteers answered questions[5]. The site now gets well over 1 billion hits.

The fictional background storyline has changed with the world political situation: during the Cold War when the tracking team provided updates via radio announcements, only North America was mentioned and Santa's approach was described in tense terms with interceptor aircraft scrambled to shoot down the "bogie."[6][7] Only at the last minute would the pilot realize who he was engaging[8]. Now the Web shows that as Santa approaches Newfoundland, a flight of Canadian Air Force fighters (CF-18 Hornets as of 2006) rendezvouses with him to provide an honor guard and ensure that he has no difficulty with the various Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) he must enter[9].

In 2006, NORAD Tracks Santa began using Microsoft Virtual Earth-style maps that instantly provide Santa's current location.

In 2007, NORAD Tracks Santa will begin using Google Earth to track Santa Claus in 3-D. They will also instantly provide Santa's location.


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