Volunteers track when Santa is coming to town
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.