A major shortage of toys for delivery on Christmas Day has emerged as the biggest threat to a Merry Christmas in several decades. Sources report that Santa Clause is expecting a major shortfall in the number of toys that will be delivered to certain communities in the United States.
The problem arose from planning at the North Pole that relied on data released last week from the US Census Bureau. The number of toys allocated to individual communities across the United States relied on statistical data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The survey provided data breaking down social, economic, housing and demographic statistics for every community in the nation. This data was then used to allocate toys for delivery to individual households in the United States. Other nations relied on different data.
It became apparent in the last few days that the data was not accurate enough for detailed toy-planning. The ACS is not a complete enumeration of the US population, but a sample based survey. The ACS is based on a rolling annual sample survey mailed to about 3 million addresses between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2009. As such, the data reported can be impacted by sample error.
Fred Gailey, a spokesperson for the Census Bureau said he was unaware of any communications between Santa and the Census Bureau, but that census data is provided free of charge for all users and is intended for a wide variety of uses. However he said, “we didn’t consider that the data would be used for toy distribution purposes”. Whether ACS data is appropriate for use by Santa, “is certainly something we will review in the future” he added.
Demographers have warned that small ACS sample groups can skew demographic data reported for neighborhoods and small communities, especially when they are compared to the much larger, more reliable numbers produced through the decennial census. The first data reported from the 2010 Decennial Census data for communities will not be available until the spring and was unavailable for use this Christmas season.
An example of the problem use of the data may be causing, sources say 1,400 toys for boys age 5-9 were loaded for delivery in Harrisburg, PA based on ACS reporting. According to Harrisburg Mayor John Marley, the actual number of boys expecting toys in the city at least twice that. Likewise in Meadville, PA 500 toys for girls age 10-14 were set to be delivered, 40% more than are expected to be needed according to local demographers at Allegheny College. The misallocation of toys to communities is the cause of a major disruption in Santa Clause’s vast worldwide delivery effort that will culminate on December 25th.
Exacerbating the problem is that North Pole , LLC, the nonprofit operating company that Mr. Clause relies on for most bulk operations has shifted to a just in time production method for supplying the majority of toys delivered on Christmas. Increased use of lean shipping techniques have also optimized delivery routes resulting in significant cost savings for Mr. Clause. Sleighs are dynamically loaded with exact products allocated for delivery to specific geographic locations. In recent years the organization has received multiple awards for the improvements implemented including the Commerce Department’s Malcolm Baldrige award in 2008. Ironically, the Census Bureau is itself part of of the United States Department of Commerce. That efficiency may be part of the problem in the present circumstances, with little excess inventory available for redistribution.
Problems became apparent only this week and are still not widely known outside of Mr. Claus’ close circle of friends and advisors. Initial reports came from staff at several major retailers across the nation who said major orders for new toys started to come in just last night. Ms. Doris Walker, chief toy buyer at Macy’s said that last minute orders are not uncommon just before Christmas. She declined further comment and would not confirm whether. Staff at Macys’ who declined to be identified said some of the calls “sounded a bit frantic”.
The problems are not expected to cause problems in other parts of the world outside of the United States where Census ACS data was not relied upon for planning.
The shortage is particularly difficult to address because of the timing of the discovery of the problem. The scale of the problem was only discovered on Tuesday December 22. Preflight operations and loading for the annual delivery of Christmas toys worldwide had already begun. Some of the misloaded sleighs were already pre-staged or enroute to their destinations when the problems were discovered.
Indications are that Santa is taking measures to address the situation including a major transloading operation being set up to redistribute toys among sleighs enroute. There are reports the Canadian military is investigating unannounced flights and other abnormal activity at a site in the Torngat Mountains in Northern Newfoundland in Canada. Major Henry X. Harper, a spokesperson for the Canadian Air Force, declined further comment on what is known at this point saying surveillance of the Northern Lights is routine.
A priority is getting toys delivered to areas that data indicated had zero children in particular age cohorts, when in fact there are children expecting toys. A review of the recently released census data show for example no children reported in Smock, PA, raising the possibility that the town is not on any reindeer routes. Reporters visited the town earlier today and identified several families with children living there. Lillian Mountweazel, a town resident and mother of twins Edward and George, both age 4, were ready with cookies and milk for Santa. ”Who decided Christmas was about efficiency” was her immediate reaction when reporters explained the causes of the potential toy disruption.
Parents are advised not to unduly worry their children with news of possible toy shortages. Fred Gailey, a New York investment banker and widely considered to be an unofficial spokesperson for Mr. Kringle in New York, said Thursday that children worldwide can be assured of the delivery. While not confirming any problems, he went out of his way to emphasize that if there were problems, they will corrected.
If there are any concerns, it is suggested parents or children can make use of NORAD's Santa Operations Center which will again be tracking the Christmas delivery of toys. NORAD began taking calls this morning at 4:30 a.m. EST on Dec. 24. You can call (877) HI-NORAD to speak with a NORAD staff member who is tracking Santa in real-time. E-mail is also available this year firstname.lastname@example.org on Dec. 24. NORAD's Santa Operations Center is staffed by over 1,250 Canadian and American volunteers. These volunteers are responsible for responding to e-mails and phone calls, and also working with corporate contributors and sponsors.