Technology

After mass shootings, schools turn to Miami-made app to keep out the bad guys

CONCIERGEpad founder and CEO Rene Perez, left, with Frank Porro, COO. The app is now in about 250 schools nationwide.
CONCIERGEpad founder and CEO Rene Perez, left, with Frank Porro, COO. The app is now in about 250 schools nationwide. Miami Herald

For most parents at St. Brendan Elementary in Westchester, February’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland was a turning point.

In the days after the tragedy, they approached Angie Medina, a parent with two daughters at the school and a leader of its parent-teacher Home & School board, to beef up the school’s security.

The board and school administration ended up investing in a new visitor management system — one that has been developed by a lifelong Miami software engineer.

As schools region-wide focus on security, many are turning to CONCIERGEpad, an iPad-based app that allows schools to discreetly screen all visitors, checking them against sex offender registries, banned-persons lists and mug shot databases. It does not do criminal background checks.

“After [the Parkland school shooting] and the Santa Fe [High School, in Texas] shooting ... it’s just a high-alert topic,” said CONCIERGEpad founder and CEO Rene Perez.

Since Parkland, CONCIERGEpad’s sales have shifted into high gear. It is now in about 250 schools in eight different states, including Texas, California and New York. Within Florida, it has signed on 82 schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and all 62 Collier County schools. The starting price for a school to use the app is $1,200 a year.

CONCIERGEpad distinguishes itself from other systems with a host of additional features, like ones that allow schools to coordinate daily pickups and drop-offs, ensuring that the right person is with the child while sending a text to other family members letting them know what time the event occurred. In case of an emergency, the app sends out notifications via text message about a child’s status.

“No other competitors are doing what we’re doing for lockdown, evacuation reports, and dismissal procedures,” Perez said. “Checking in and out is important, but when you see the other things we’ve added to platform, that is our competitive advantage.”

St. Brendan Principal Maria Cristina Capote-Alonso said that while no measure can give her absolute peace of mind, she welcomes the addition of the app to her school.

“It’s discreet enough where children and parents and the community will not feel as if we’re imposing, but it ... allows us to keep the children safe, where we don’t have that worry as to who’s coming in and out.”

Perez, a Columbus High School graduate, started developing the app in 2014 as a side project while working as an airline revenue management programmer. The response from its first user, Doral Academy High School, was so overwhelming that he turned CONCIERGEpad into a full-time business. He also has adapted it for assisted living facilities, where staff can see who is allowed to check in on a given patient, and for general businesses to use.

But it was schools that continued to show the greatest interest. Today, thanks to a lean operation of just two full-time employees, CONCIERGEpad is already profitable without any outside investment — though Perez does expect to seek investors for its national expansion.

The team operates out of TamboWorks, a co-working space in South Miami. The company is currently hiring sales account managers and engineering staff.

Medina said she heard about the app after talking to sister schools in Miami’s archdiocese that had already implemented it. After Parkland, Medina swung into action, raising additional funds from St. Brendan parents to overhaul the school’s security. She said she was impressed with CONCIERGEpad’s suite of security features.

“What attracted me was the background checks, and use of technology that shows you who picks up your kid and at what time,” she said.

While she knows CONCIERGEpad cannot stop someone committed to violence, Medina said it allows her to rest at night knowing the school has an additional layer of security in place, and that she has done all she can to protect her kids and their peers.

“I wish I could put my kids in a bubble and keep them forever, but that’s not realistic,” she said. “What is foolproof? Nothing. What we’re trying to do is ask, ‘What are all the possible things we can take care of even though perfection is never going to happen?’ “

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