Originally Published: December 24, 2016 6:30 a.m.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Tens of thousands of children from around the world plan to call the North American Aerospace Defense Command to ask where Santa is, and starting Saturday they will get a cheery answer about the jolly elf's route from a military volunteer.
The wildly popular NORAD Tracks Santa operation is launching its 61st run at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Volunteers will answer phone calls and emails and post updates about Santa's world tour on Facebook and Twitter.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Paul Noel said 1,500 volunteers answered nearly 141,000 phone calls and more than 2,800 emails last year.
Here's a look at the Christmas tradition:
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Starting at 4 a.m. MST Christmas Eve, children can call a toll-free number, 877-446-6723 (877-Hi-NORAD) or email email@example.com to ask where Santa is on his journey.
Volunteers sit elbow-to-elbow in conference rooms at Peterson Air Force Base, NORAD's home, answering phones and checking computer-generated maps projected onto big screens of Santa's progress.
Elsewhere at the Air Force base, volunteers update NORAD's website (www.noradsanta.org), Facebook page (facebook.com/noradsanta) and Twitter feed (@NoradSanta).
Last year, the website had 22 million unique visitors, Noel said.
Volunteers work in shifts, taking the last calls at 3 a.m. MST Christmas Day.
WHAT IS NORAD?
The North American Aerospace Defense Command is a joint U.S.-Canada operation that defends the sky over both nations and monitors sea approaches. It's best known for its Cold War-era control room deep inside Cheyenne Mountain — now used only as a backup — and for NORAD Tracks Santa.