NORAD to track Santa Claus again

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Who’s that ping on the radar screen? Must be Santa Claus.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known as NORAD, is firing up its Santa tracker again this year to keep track of the jolly old elf’s path around the globe.

Tracking Santa has been a tradition since 1955, when a misprinted ad gave the phone number for what was then known as CONAD as the contact information for a Santa hotline. The director at the time, Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, directed those on duty to give Santa’s location on the radar to any child who called. The tradition has continued ever since.

This year, NORAD expects more than 1,500 volunteers to help with the effort, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, NORAD’s director of public affairs. Volunteers take two-hour shifts, and the command relies on partnerships to provide the all-day service without using taxpayer money.

NORAD, of course, keeps up its normal operations during its Santa watch. It is able to house those volunteers in a separate, non-classified facility on its base in Colorado.

Microsoft is the headline partner for this year’s effort, using its Azure cloud platform to help NORAD deal with the annual traffic spike it sees from the effort.

The command center has also rolled out a series of free game and tracking apps for Apple, Google Android and Microsoft phones, as well as Windows PCs, to make the effort more accessible for parents and kids. So far, Davis said, NORAD has seen more than 1.7 million app downloads across all devices.

“We’re excited about it and excited about supporting the folks who are out there 24/7,” said Tim Solms, Microsoft’s general manager for its business with the Defense Department.

NORAD worked with other partners, such as Colorado firm iLink Systems, to design some of its apps.

For the past five years, NORAD’s main partner has been Google. But Davis said they’ve agreed to go their separate ways.

Parents and kids interested in following Santa on his flight around the world can check in over the NORAD apps on the Apple, Google and Microsoft app stores, send an e-mail to noradtrassanta@outlook.com or call in at 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) for updates.

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