(CN) - Since 1955, when a government telephone phone number was mistaken for one where kids could "call Santa," the United States has reported the Jolly Old Fellow's whereabouts on Christmas Eve.
It was during the Cold War, when Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup had a red phone on his desk, where, should it ring, the likely message would be that nuclear missiles were headed from the Soviet Union over the North Pole to the United States, Shoup's children told National Public Radio last December.
This was the phone number the local Sears & Roebuck store mistakenly advertised as one where children could talk to Santa, according to the Santa tracking website.
The serious Shoup was annoyed to hear a child's voice asking for Santa Claus, thinking it was a joke, but when the boy started to cry, Shoup talked to him and had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole, his children told NPR. Then he put a couple airmen on duty to answer calls.
When the United States' air defense command joined with Canada's three years later, creating the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD, it carried on the tradition of tracking Santa, the "NORAD Tracks Santa" website states.
The site, launched anew each December since 1997, includes activities and information for children, and a countdown to Santa's departure for his worldwide trip, according to a United States Department of Defense statement announcing the 60 year anniversary of the tracking program.
Santa can now be tracked on various electronic devices and social media and in eight languages.
On Dec. 24, NORAD will post a radar display showing Santa's route, and "Santa Cams" will show flight preparations and Santa and his sleigh passing over landmarks. The site also provides contact information for the public to call in or email to find out Santa's location.
More than 1,250 Canadian and American uniformed personnel and DOD civilians volunteer their time on Dec. 24 to answer the thousands of phone calls and emails that flood in from around the world, the tracking website states.
"It's pretty exciting," Lt. Commander Richlyn Ivey said of Santa tracking at the command and control center.
"It's decorated and the volunteers have on Santa hats, and you can see monitors in the command center tracking Santa -- you see Santa Claus on his sleigh," she told Courthouse News from NORAD, in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The volunteers Richlyn spoke with said the kids were so excited to talk to them, and that it was rewarding.
The program spends "only minimal government funds," according to its website, with contributions coming from: companies related to computers, commercial satellites, communication and imagery; United States government offices related to youth education, military community support, flight, and postal tracking; a military media liaison; children's charities; Sears; and several military academy bands, the website indicates.
Historical audio and video of Santa tracking information from NORAD is on an associated site for the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System.
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