Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Capt. Jeff Davis, U.S. Navy and Director, NORAD and U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs. For more than 50 years, NORAD has helped children around the world track Santa during his Christmas journey, and this year Microsoft is partnering with NORAD to make following the big red sleigh easier than ever. The Santa Tracker tool is built on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud computing platform and Bing Maps, and anxious kids can even track Kris Kringle on Windows Phone and Windows 8 apps.
A program renowned the world over – one that brings in thousands of volunteers, prominent figures such as the First Lady of the United States, and one that has been going on for more than five decades – all started as a misprint.
That error ran in a local Colorado Springs newspaper back in 1955 after a local department store printed an advertisement with an incorrect phone number that children could use to “call Santa.” Except that someone goofed. Or someone mistook a three for an eight. Maybe elves broke into the newspaper and changed the number. We’ll never know.
But somehow, the number in the advertisement changed, and instead of reaching the “Santa” on call for the local department store, it rang at the desk of the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, the organization that would one day become the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or “NORAD.”
And when the commander on duty, Col. Harry Shoup, first picked up the phone and heard kids asking for Santa, he could have told them they had a wrong number.
But he didn’t.
Instead, the kind-hearted colonel asked his crew to play along and find Santa’s location. Just like that, NORAD was in the Santa-tracking business.
Colonel Shoup probably had no way of knowing what he had started. Fast forward 62 years later, and NORAD is still tracking Santa, and with the help of technology and our generous contributors – including Microsoft, Analytical Graphics Inc., Verizon, Visionbox and more than 50 others – the ability for people around the world to follow Santa’s journey has grown in ways no one could have imagined back in 1955.
This year, nearly 25 million people around the world are expected to follow Santa’s journey in real-time on the Web, on their mobile devices, by e-mail and by phone. This combination of new and old technologies is essential to helping NORAD keep up with the incredible demand for Santa tracking that grows each year.
To put the program into perspective, last year the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center volunteers in Colorado Springs received more than 102,000 calls, 7,721 e-mails and reached nearly 20 million people in more than 220 countries around the world through the www.noradsanta.org website. With the help of a worldwide network of partners, military and civilian volunteers, and thanks to the special friendship between the U.S. and Canada, NORAD will be able to reach even more people this year.
Starting at 12 a.m. MST on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa make the preparations for his flight. Then, at 4:00 a.m. MST (6:00 a.m. EST), trackers worldwide can speak with a live phone operator to inquire as to Santa’s whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. NORAD’s “Santa Cams” will also stream videos as Santa makes his way over various locations throughout the world.
It’s a big job, and we can’t do it alone, but the holidays have always been a time for bringing people together. With the help of our industry partners and friends in Canada, the tradition that started as a mistake will live on again this year.