MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – For the 60th year, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is keeping tabs on Old St. Nick, aka Santa Claus, aka Kris Kringle as he make his annual tour of the world.
The so-called Santa Tracker’s hub is at Colorado’s Peterson Air Force base, where hundreds of volunteers will be answering calls from an estimated 125,000 children around the globe looking for Santa’s whereabouts.
In places like Alaska, however, remote NORAD identification technicians who monitor computer screens 24 hours a day for possible air incursions also spend Christmas Eve serving as official Santa “trackers.”
The technicians in Canada and the U.S. report “sightings” of a sleigh full of toys pulled by flying reindeer, said Tech. Sgt. John Gordinier, an Alaska NORAD spokesman.
“It’s one of the largest military community relations events we have,” Gordinier said.
HOW DOES NORAD TRACK SANTA?
A system of radar stations and satellites monitor all air traffic entering U.S. and Canadian airspace. All aircraft have a code to identify themselves. If an aircraft doesn’t have a code, Gordinier said, NORAD can scramble jets to see who it is and what they’re doing.
Luckily, Santa is good at keeping in touch with NORAD, Gordinier said.
“When he pops up, we call him Big Red One,” he said. “That’s his call sign.”
The nose on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is a tipoff. It gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch, Gordinier said.
WHAT IS SANTA’S ROUTE?
Santa generally departs the North Pole, flies to the international date line over the Pacific Ocean, then begins deliveries in island nations. He then works his way west in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Alaska is usually his last stop before heading home, Gordinier said.
HOW DO CHILDREN PARTICIPATE?
On Christmas Eve, children can call a toll-free number, 877-446-6723 (877-Hi-NORAD) and speak to a live phone operator about Santa’s whereabouts.
They can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORAD has 157 telephone lines and hundreds of volunteers ready to answer calls, including first lady Michelle Obama, who takes a break from her Hawaii vacation to take forwarded calls.
The sites include games, movies and music. “Santacams” stream videos from various locations.
HOW DID NORAD GET INVOLVED WITH TRACKING SANTA?
A 1955 newspaper advertisement for Sears Roebuck and Co. listed a phone number for “kiddies” to call Santa Claus but got it wrong.
The number was for a crisis phone at Air Operations Center at Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Air Force Col. Harry Shoup took a call from a child and thought he was being pranked. When he figured out he was talking to a little boy, he pretended he was Santa.
More children called. Shoop eventually instructed airmen answering the phone to offer Santa’s radar location as he crossed the globe.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)