FORT BLISS, Texas (Dec. 17) -- The Department of Defense announced last week that North American Aerospace Defense Command will release to the public up-to-the-minute, detailed information about Santa Claus through its Web site at www.noradsanta.org.
First launched on the Internet in 1997, NORAD's five-language, Santa Claus tracking Web site proved to be a huge success over the Christmas holidays last year with more than 28 million hits registered on the main site. This year's site, which kicked off Dec. 8, is vastly improved, officials said, with multimedia video and Shockwave Flash graphics.
The Santa-tracking tradition began in 1955 when the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor, was overwhelmed by kid calls on Christmas Eve because of a newspaper misprint. Calls for a "Santa Hotline" were inadvertently directed to the Combat Operations hotline of CONAD. Realizing the mistake, the staff told callers the organization was tracking Santa on its radarscopes. And from that moment, a tradition was born.
"It's a very useful site for the intelligence community," said Sgt. 1st Class Mary Greeness-Suggett, intelligence operations NCOIC for the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. Each year, Greeness-Suggett gathers information from the NORAD site and other sources to keep her command informed.
NORAD has a good historical track record, according to Greeness-Suggett. "They have apparently been tracking Santa for 43 years, and they do have quite a lot of historical information. Some of it goes back several thousand years because they've done some intense intelligence-gathering research and incorporated it into their information base," Greeness-Suggett said.
"You might want to log onto the site," urged Sgt. Michael Laws, webmaster for the 35th ADA Brigade. "It contains a lot of interesting information including Santa secrets. It answers the question, 'Is there a Santa?' It has a lot of high-speed graphics using an easy-to-use format. And the site is done free to the taxpayer and the government by organizations working with NORAD."
The Web site describes the process and technology NORAD uses to track the whereabouts of Santa, as well as determining the status of Santa's annual mission, Laws said. "It's one of the things you can find out. I don't want to reveal a lot of the secrets that are on this Web site, but you can get them on your own by logging onto their address at www.noradsanta.org."
Information is constantly updated on the site, said Greeness-Suggett. "Of course, the information accumulates and builds to a real pitch of excitement by Christmas Day."
According to NORAD, Santa tends not to file a flight plan with either Transport Canada or the Federal Aviation Authority. Therefore, NORAD is required to identify the 'unknown' Christmas objects on the radar screen. This usually means that two Canadian jets are deployed in the far North of Canada to verify that the objects are in fact Santa, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph.
NORAD also states on its Web site that the command might be able to detect Santa with its infrared satellites. "When he comes to North America, we can also see him on our radar screens. NORAD jets will give us visual confirmation."
Greeness-Suggett said she has a vested interest in tracking Santa Claus because of the demands of her grandchildren, Travis, 3, Casey, 2, and four-month old Taylor.
Greeness-Suggett said NORAD will provide updates using satellite data and digitally enhanced imagery as Santa begins his trip Dec. 24.
"Based on our previous experiences, we in the intelligence community expect Santa to start his journey early on the morning of December 24 Eastern Standard Time."
by Sgt. David E. Gillespie
(Gillespie is with the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade
Public Affairs Office at Fort Bliss, Texas)