NORAD's Santa Tracker Dec 24, 2009 20:35:24 GMT -6
Post by Mini Mia on Dec 24, 2009 20:35:24 GMT -6
NORAD has been taking its Santa tracking project seriously for decades. But it actually began in 1955 with a wrong number.
One morning that December, U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, the director of operations at CONAD, the Continental Air Defense Command--NORAD's predecessor--got a phone call at his Colorado Springs, Colorado, office. This was no laughing matter. The call had come in on one of the top secret lines inside CONAD that only rang in the case of a crisis.
Grabbing the phone, Shoup must have expected the worst. Instead, a tiny voice asked, "Is this Santa Claus?"
"Dad was pretty annoyed," said Terri Van Keuren, Shoup's daughter, recalling the legend of that day in 1955. "He barks into the phone," demanding to know who's calling.
"The little voice is now crying," Van Keuren continued. "'Is this one of Santa's elves, then?'"
The Santa questions were only beginning. That day, the local newspaper had run a Sears Roebuck ad with a big picture of St. Nick and text that urged, "Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct...Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night."
But the phone number in the ad was off by a digit. Instead of connecting with Santa, callers were dialing in on the line that would ring if the Russians were attacking.
Before long, the phone was ringing off the hook, and softening up, Shoup grabbed a nearby airman and told him to answer the calls and, Van Keuren said, "'just pretend you're Santa.'"
Indeed, rather than having the newspaper pull the Sears ad, Shoup decided to offer the countless kids calling in something useful: information about Santa's progress from the North Pole. To quote the official NORAD Santa site, "a tradition was born."
From that point on, first CONAD and then, in 1958, when NORAD was formed, Shoup's organization offered annual Santa tracking as a service to the global community. A phone number was publicized and anyone was invited to call up, especially on December 24, and find out where Santa was. Manning those phones over the years have been countless numbers of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel and their families, and for many people, turning to NORAD to find out where Santa is became something to look forward to each year.
These days, of course, a single red phone isn't enough to handle the demand for the information. In fact, said Joyce Frankovis, the public affairs specialist who runs the Santa tracking program for NORAD these days, there were fully 1,275 people involved in the project in 2008, and there would have been more had there been more room for them.
Frankovis explained that most of those people are volunteers who come in to NORAD's Colorado Springs headquarters on Christmas Eve to answer phone calls and e-mails. And it's a good thing there's so many, she said, because "Literally, when a volunteer puts the phone down after they get done with a call, it's ringing again."
All told, she said that each volunteer handles about 39 calls per hour and that in 2008, the team used 100 phones and 25 computers to handle 69,845 calls and 6,086 e-mails from more than 200 countries. Most of those contacts happened during the 25 hours from 2 a.m. on December 24 through 3 a.m. on Christmas that the operations center is up and running.
Most people, Frankovis said, just want to know where Santa is. And so the volunteer answering the question will look up at the big screen on the wall at the operations center and see where, on the map that is integrating geographical information from NORAD with Google's mapping service, Santa is at that moment.