EDITOR’S NOTE: Wristbands are helping keep kids safe at six hotels on Daytona Beach this summer. And what a smart idea! Parents are provided bright yellow wristbands they can write their information on and wrap around their kid’s wrist in case they wander off. The wristbands are waterproof and have proved a huge success among resort visitors.
It’s hard to keep up with Jorge Roman on the beach.
One minute the 3-year-old is jumping with his arms stretched above him, reaching for sea gulls flying by, and the next he’s running toward a crashing wave. Chasing behind him is the boy’s stepfather, Ryan Turner, who said he’s often surprised at how fast his child is.
“Even at the grocery store, you can turn around to grab something and he’s gone,” said Turner, a Daytona Beach resident.
So when Sasha Medina, a Beach Safety officer, approached him recently and asked to place a wristband on Jorge in case he wandered off, Turner thought it was a great idea.
“I know these beaches get really crowded,” he said. “The bracelet would really help out.”
This is the second year the Volusia County Beach Safety Division will be passing out bracelets to families in an effort to bring down the number of lost children. Through the summer beach season that begins this Memorial Day weekend and extends until Labor Day, parents and guardians on the beach will be asked to scribble their phone numbers on a yellow, waterproof bracelet and wrap it around their kids’ wrists.
Should their child be found alone, an officer can easily pick up the phone and dial the parent.
“When we get a missing kid, especially a very young one, it’s not always easy to get information from them such as their parent’s name, where they were, what their parent is wearing,” Medina said. “It’s just an easier way for us to reconnect them with their party.”
The bracelet method is especially useful during the summer — the busiest time on the beach for Volusia County. Beach Safety officers are gearing up this year with 20,000 bracelets and at least six local hotels are on board to pass them out to their guests.
One of those includes the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. Being involved in the program “just seems like the right thing to do,” said Paige Koerbel, the hotel’s area managing director.
“We have a pretty heavy family clientele during the summer. Our property is beachfront and kids can wander off pretty easily,” he said. “We had one incident last year that I’m sure was traumatic for the people involved. Hopefully, we can prevent that this year.”
And it’s not just children who stray away. Medina said she frequently finds adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s who can’t remember where their families are.
The bracelets are meant to cut the time it takes to reunite families in half so officers and lifeguards can get back to their duties, Medina said.
“We have a lot things going on,” she said. “The water is our primary focus. So the more time that we spend trying to reunite a lost kid with their parent is less time for us to be able to watch the water and deal with any other circumstances that may arise, such as water rescues or medical calls.”
One instance last year took up to eight hours to find the parents, said Mark Swanson, director for the Volusia County Beach Safety Division. Another time, the child was found more than a mile away.
Swanson believes the implementation of the bracelet program contributed to a drop in lost children. During last year’s summer season, officers counted 114 missing children on the beach, down from 134 the previous year.
Simply telling parents about the program will often prompt them to be more careful, Swanson said.
“Just the fact that we put it out there parents were thinking ‘Wow. Is it really that big of a problem that they have to pass out these bracelets? Maybe I should watch my children,’” he said.
That may be true, considering less than a dozen of those 114 missing children wore bracelets. The other 5,000 children who received bracelets didn’t go missing, Swanson said.
But beyond that, the bracelets can save the situation from growing worse and ruining a visitor’s vacation.
“I’ve seen both children and parents very panicked and frantic and we don’t want that,” Medina said. “Every moment that passes, the parent could be thinking the worst and we don’t want them to not come back and not bring their kid again because they’re afraid it might happen again.”
That may also depend on the person, said Tom Caradonio, executive director for the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Center.
“We lost our daughter at a boat show in Houston, but we didn’t stop going to the boat show,” he said. However, the bracelets are beneficial from a business standpoint. “It shows a higher service level from the hotel and how the community cares.”