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Santa Claus is coming to town - tonight!

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Nine-year-old Dakota Johnson said she is getting ready for an annual Christmas ritual - tracking the movements of Santa Claus online.

"I hope to see him put the presents under the tree," she said, adding that the present she is most hoping for is a Wii video game set.

Johnson, a fourth-grader at New Hope Elementary School, is just one of many thousands of children who will stay up late tonight watching for the jolly man in the red suit. Their efforts to track him will be guided by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the military organization that oversees air defense for the United States and Canada.

According to Master Sgt. Anthony Hill, assistant tracking director for NORAD's tracking center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., volunteers are preparing to answer phone calls in record numbers, from children wanting to keep an eye out for Santa.

To do that, NORAD has increased its resources at the call center, in order to respond to "a higher volume of calls."

"Google's hosting our web site, and that will draw more traffic to the site," Hill said. "This year, we added about 30 more phones, for a total of 100."

NORAD will begin monitoring Santa's movement around 4 a.m., EST on Christmas Eve, and will wrap up its coverage at 4 a.m., Christmas Day.

Hill explained that last year, about 65,000 calls were answered by volunteers at the center on Christmas Eve, with thousands more unable to get through. In total, about 400,000 calls were placed to the center last year. The Santa hotline has increased its capacity to inform children of where Santa is at all times tonight.

"At least every 15 minutes, we're going to update the hotline message with Santa's exact location," he said.

Dakota Johnson's three-year-old brother, Gavin, may have already gotten a jump on NORAD in their mission to watch out for Santa. Gavin Johnson said he saw Santa on Friday, behind a bus at his sister's school.

Dakota and Gavin's mother, Misty Johnson, said watching out for Santa get the kids "excited" about Christmas.

"We're always looking out for Santa Claus, just in case we see him checking on the kids," she said.

Tracking information is available, on the NORAD tracking center site, in German, English, Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese. In addition, Hill said children wishing to know where Santa is tonight can contact the call center, at 1-877-HI-NORAD.

- On the Net: www.noradsanta.org