Arden Fair mall has a new tool this holiday season for reuniting parents with lost children: wristbands for the kids that have their folks' cellphone numbers written on them.
The new program – apparently a first for the region – addresses a problem that surfaces regularly during crowded shopping days, said Steve Reed, the mall's security chief.
"Parents just turn their heads for a minute and (the kids) are gone," Reed said.
The security chief said one such incident occurred last week when a 3-year-old boy was separated from his parents.
Reed found him "crying uncontrollably" at the mall's center court and took him to the guard station, where his frantic mom appeared five minutes later.
"He was crying, the mom was crying. It was a pretty traumatic experience," he said.
When the wristband program starts this week, such reunions will occur just a little faster.
Reed said he got the idea after visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium three weeks ago and seeing wristbands used there.
The program has been in place at the aquarium for almost two years and pays off "about once a day" when kids are separated from parents, said Jim Fuller, the popular tourist site's security manager.
"I'd say in 80 percent of the cases, they're reunited in less than five minutes," he said.
Similar programs are in place at some Westfield Group malls but not at its one Sacramento-area location in Roseville, a company spokeswoman said.
After his visit to Monterey, Reed contacted BrandVia Alliance Inc., the San Jose vendor supplying the aquarium, and ordered 1,000 neon-green bands displaying the Arden Fair name and logo on the outside, and a place to write down cell numbers inside.
They'll be available starting Friday, the huge shopping day following Thanksgiving.
Connecting parents with lost kids was a lot tougher in the days before cellphones became ubiquitous, Reed said.
Often, a parent would come to security guards reporting that a child was missing, then would rush off to search for the lost boy or girl.
Invariably, a guard would find the missing kid.
"Then," said Reed, "we had to go off looking for the parent."