Vol­un­teers track when Santa is com­ing to town

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Colorado Springs

Vol­un­teers at the North Amer­i­can Aero­space De­fense Com­mand were pre­par­ing on Wed­nes­day to mon­i­tor Santa Claus as he made his sto­ry­book Christ­mas Eve flight.

Tech­nol­ogy and so­cial me­dia have be­come an im­por­tant part of the US and Cana­dian mil­i­tary tra­di­tion, and NORAD Tracks Santa has al­ready at­tracted a record 1.5 mil­lion Face­book “likes’’.

The an­nual Christ­mas-themed en­ter­tain­ment pro­gram has ex­isted since 1955.

Vol­un­teers were spend­ing Wed­nes­day an­swer­ing phone calls and e-mails from chil­dren and post­ing up­dates on the myth­i­cal jour­ney to Face­book, Twit­ter and www.NORADSanta.org.

The pro­gram, which gen­er­ates enough statis­tics, anec­dotes and sto­ries to fill a sleigh, has a con­trol cen­ter at Peter­son Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

It started in De­cem­ber 1955 when a news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ment in­vited chil­dren to call Santa, but the phone num­ber listed was for the Con­ti­nen­tal Aero­space De­fense Com­mand, the pre­de­ces­sor to the North Amer­i­can Aero­space De­fense Com­mand.

The of­fi­cers on duty played along and be­gan pass­ing re­ports on Santa’s progress.

Young­sters call 877-HI-NORAD or e-mail no­rad­trackssanta@out­look. com from early on Christ­mas Eve.

A vol­un­teer checks a big-screen com­puter mon­i­tor and passes on Santa’s lo­ca­tion. Up­dates are posted at noradsanta.org, face­book.com/ noradsanta and twit­ter.com/NoradSanta. Hun­dreds of vol­un­teers work for 23 hours on the day — and the night — be­fore Christ­mas.

So far this year, NORAD Tracks Santa had 1.5 mil­lion Face­book likes by Mon­day af­ter­noon and the to­tal was grow­ing by about 100 an hour. Twit­ter fol­low­ers stood at 136,000.

Ini­tial web­site vis­its were not avail­able and the phone lines and e-mail ac­counts had still to go live.

Last year, the web­site at­tracted more than 19.5 mil­lion unique vis­i­tors in De­cem­ber, the Face­book page drew 1.45 mil­lion “likes’’ and the Twit­ter feed had 146,000 fol­low­ers.

Vol­un­teers took 117,000 phone calls and an­swered 9,600 e-mails. The Face­book likes, Twit­ter fol­low­ers and phone calls were all record highs for NORAD Tracks Santa.

Vis­its to the web­site, which was launched in 1997, peaked at 22.3 mil­lion in 2012 be­fore drop­ping to about 19.6 mil­lion last year.

The rea­son is not clear, but Ma­jor Beth Castro, a NORAD spokes­woman, said the web­site might not have been able to ac­com­mo­date all the traf­fic.

Phone calls rose from about 74,000 in 2009 to more than 117,000 in 2013.

Face­book “likes’’ grew from 1 mil­lion in 2011 to 1.45 mil­lion last year, while Twit­ter fol­low­ers rose from 101,000 to more than 146,000.

The web­site has an an­i­mated elf named “Radar”, who was the fa­vorite in a vote on Face­book, beat­ing out “DARON’’, which is NORAD spelled back­ward, and “Echo L. Fox­trot’’, which uses the mil­i­tary pho­netic al­pha­bet to spell out “elf’’.

NORAD Tracks Santa also has a new mo­bile ver­sion of its web­site for smart­phones.

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