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A wrong number phone call, made on Christmas Eve in 1955 by a little boy wanting to talk to Santa Claus, rang at the hotline for what was then the Continental Air Defense Command operations center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Col. Harry Shoup was on duty that night and took the call. He quickly figured out what had happened — and pivoted.

It was the first call of many that followed — an ad, a promotion put on by the local Sears and Roebuck Co., had printed a wrong number for checking on Santa’s journey. Shoup and his team took the reins and began giving radar status reports on Santa’s sleigh to all the children who called that night.

And now, 65 years later, NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command — continues the tradition. Headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, NORAD keeps tabs on Santa and lets inquiring children know when he will be in their neighborhood — thanks to help from volunteers answering phone calls, posting on social media sites, and through Amazon’s Alexa and the OnStar vehicle security and navigation service.

Of course, as with everything else this year, there will be some changes. According to a NORAD spokesperson, due to local public health concerns, the call center will not be able to support a large in-person presence, which will impact their ability to answer as many live calls this year as they have in years past. The call center will still be operational, just with less people. If callers are unable to reach one of the volunteers, they will hear a recorded message with Santa’s current location.

Tracking Santa

According to NORAD, more than 154,000 calls about Santa’s progress were answered in 2019. In addition, there were more than 15,000 OnStar requests to locate the man in red, and nearly 2 million inquiries were made to Amazon’s Alexa.

Tracking Santa takes a three-pronged approach that uses radar, satellites and jets. As Santa leaves the North Pole, NORAD’s North Warning System radar follows him along Alaska and North Canada. How? The radar picks up the movement of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer as they take off.

When Santa gets to Japan, the tracking shifts to satellites. The satellites, positioned in a fixed, geo-synchronous orbit about 22,300 miles above Earth, have infrared sensors that detect heat, so they hone in on Rudolph’s nose.

As Santa gets closer to Canada and the U.S, NORAD’s jet fighters greet Santa at Newfoundland.

Cradlepoint’s connection

Todd Krautkremer, chief marketing officer for Cradlepoint explains the tech company’s role in tracking Santa. “The North American Aerospace Defense command center is an extremely secure government facility. In order to run the Santa Tracker program, NORAD personnel need to be 100% isolated from NORAD infrastructure,” he said.”Cradlepoint’s wireless routers provide cellular access to the internet, thereby isolating the infrastructure needed for the Santa tracker program from NORAD.”

Last year, Cradlepoint upgraded to a higher-performance router to track Santa’s journey: the Cradlepoint NetCloud Service on the AER2200 with Gigabit-Class LTE connectivity. Krautkremer said there will be no changes. “This solution is still a flagship for Cradlepoint,” he said.

And, “When the Santa Tracker program is ready to embrace 5G, Cradlepoint will be ready to provide them with a 5G solution,” he said.

Get some shut-eye

In addition to the Santa Tracker, NORAD also keeps a close eye on the presents the Jolly Old Elf delivers with the Gift Tracker.

Also important to note: Santa only comes to homes between 9 p.m. and midnight — and only after the kids are asleep.

So, kids, have fun tracking Santa with the NORAD Santa tracker, but make sure you get to bed by 9 — and don’t forget the cookies and milk.

Jeanne Huff is the community engagement editor for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at 208-465-8106 and follow her on Twitter @goodnewsgirl.

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