The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is an organization which is responsible for promoting the safety and sovereignty of North America. It is a binational command, including both Canadian and American representatives who protect the mutual interests of these nations. The organization is sometimes known colloquially as Cheyenne Mountain, in a reference to the command center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
The groundwork for NORAD was laid in the Second World War, when American and Canadian leaders met and expressed an interest in information and patrol sharing responsibilities. Since both nations were allies and both presumably had a vested interest in not being invaded, a cooperative effort was logical. After the Second World War, concerns about the growing Soviet threat led to a desire for a more coordinated and centralized cooperation, and NORAD was born in 1958 as the North American Air Defense Command.
By convention, the Commander of this organization is American, and he or she is also in charge of the United States Northern Command. The deputy commander is Canadian, and each is answerable to both governments. The United States Air Force manages day to day operations in Cheyenne Mountain, and support is also provided by Canadian military personnel.
NORAD has a variety of functions. The most obvious is the identification and assessment of potential airborne threats, such as missile launches. It also administers warning systems throughout the United States and Canada, and it monitors air traffic over North America. It is authorized to respond to credible threats to the United States, and it maintains an insulated bunker at the command center for use in the event of a major aerospace attack.
The central command of NORAD collects data from across North America, supported by bases in Manitoba, Florida, and Alaska. Like other military organizations, it is constantly evolving to respond to new threats and global issues. For example, the organization places less focus on concerns about missile attacks than it did during the Cold War, and more energy is spent monitoring air traffic to avoid a repeat of 11 September, 2001, in which four commercial airliners were hijacked and used as bombs.
Because NORAD employees are responsible for the safety and security of the North American continent, they undergo stringent background checks. Employees are selected from the Canadian Forces Air Command and the United States Air Force. These employees are also responsible, incidentally, for tracking Santa Claus every December, with the assistance of a large network of civilian volunteers.