The U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will soon conduct its most celebrated mission in the holiday season -- tracking Santa Claus on his
Christmas Eve journey, the American Forces Press Service (AFPS) reported on Thursday.
Marisa Novobilski, the program's lead coordinator, is expecting the highest participation ever. "In the past few years, the growth has been amazing," she told the AFPS.
Technology and social media have expanded the program's reach exponentially, offering updates on Santa's whereabouts by phone, online and through mobile apps, said the report.
Beginning at 6 a.m. EST on Christmas Eve, over a thousand volunteers will pull shifts through the night at a temporary NORAD Tracks Santa operations center at the Peterson Air Base in Colorado, answering phone calls and emails from children around the world as they check on Santa's globe-circling sleigh ride.
The website offers reports in eight languages, and volunteer translators at the call center will take calls in several languages.
The NORAD Tracks Santa website has already registered almost 2.1 million visitors since it was launched on Dec. 1. The new NORAD Tracks Santa apps have been downloaded by more than 1.6 million users.
In December 2011, the NORAD Tracks Santa website registered 18.9 million visitors from 220 countries and regions. More than 1 million Facebook followers became "fans" of NORAD Tracks Santa. On Dec. 24 alone, volunteers took 102,000 phone calls and responded to 8,000 emails reporting on Santa's whereabouts.
The program started on a lark in 1955 when a local newspaper ad misprinted the phone number for children to call Santa as the number of then the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center. Rather than turning the children away, people who were on duty played along, offering assurance that Santa was on track to make his scheduled deliveries.
The tradition continued, even as the command merged with its Canadian counterpart in 1958 to form NORAD.
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