Seeking Santa? Just ask NORAD

Published 9:10 am Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kids in Pike County who are expecting a visit from Santa Claus Saturday night should do their best to be in bed by 9 p.m., according to the Santa tracking team at the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

“Santa typically visits people’s homes between 9 p.m. and midnight,” said Stacey Knott, social media specialist and volunteer Santa tracker at NORAD.

Knott said kids and parents can call or log on to to check Santa’s flight status on Christmas Eve.

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“Santa usually starts his flight over the eastern hemisphere,” Knott explained. “As Santa makes his way into North America, kids should jump in bed. If they are not asleep, Santa won’t stop at their house.”

But if you are traveling to see grandparents or other friends and family on Christmas Eve, that’s OK. Santa can adjust his schedule. Knott said kids won’t be missing out on presents just because they can’t be home.

“Santa knows everything. He knows when you are naughty or nice. He knows when you are home or not,” Knott explained.

And there are a couple of new features this year to help families stay on top of Santa’s location. There’s an iPhone and Android Santa tracking app available for free download, and OnStar is now helping out. Knott said that OnStar subscribers can push their call button on Christmas Eve and ask an operator where Santa is along his journey.

The partnership between Santa and the U.S. military started in 1955 when an advertisement for Sears Roebuck & Co. in Colorado Springs, Colo. accidentally listed Santa’s number incorrectly. Instead of the number ringing through to the jolly man in red, it reached the Continental Air Defense Command, now NORAD.

“Unfortunately, they had one number off,” Knott explained, “and it rang to the dreaded red phone. The phone was only used by important people like the president and secretary of defense.”

Col. Harry Shoup answered the phone expecting word of a national crisis, and instead heard the sweet voice of a little girl asking if he was Santa.

Shoup explained to the child he wasn’t Santa, but he had his staff check the same radar our military uses for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Shoup then instructed his staff to visit with any children who called that Christmas Eve with updates on Santa’s travels.

The Santa tracking tradition was born.

“It’s important,” Knott said. “Boys and girls have to know when to get in bed. It’s our honor and our privilege to be a part of this family tradition.”

The operation has grown substantially over the years.

This Christmas Eve, 1,200 volunteers will work for 25 hours answering phone calls and e-mails as NORAD tracks Santa around the world.

Because of expanding technology, NORAD now tracks the big guy through 227 countries and provides a tracking website in eight languages. And the entire service is free to kids and kids at heart.

Last year, volunteers answered about 80,000 phone calls and there have already been 15 million unique visitor to the website.

Knotts said that all e-mails and phone calls are answered as swiftly as possible on Christmas Eve, but it may take a try or two to get through, so don’t be discouraged.

“We never pretend to be Santa, but we can pass along messages,” Knott said. “We know the big guy.”