Researcher helps military, police and first responders communicate
Semra Gulder is a problem solver. Her latest challenge is to help her client—National Defence—overcome incompatibility issues when communicating with partners.
Semra is a computer network researcher at the Communications Research Centre Canada (CRC), an agency of Industry Canada. As the Canadian government’s primary laboratory for research and development in advanced telecommunications, CRC provides expertise to government clients in areas such as national defence and public safety.
Semra leads a group that is developing technological solutions to enable communication —and facilitate interoperability—on two fronts: between Canadian Forces and coalition partners; and between first responders, including the army, in emergency situations. First responders are emergency personnel that are first called to a crisis such as an accident.
Currently, the military communications systems of most nations cannot communicate with each other. Their communications and encryption standards are often not compatible, their policies vary and their devices come from different manufacturers.
“Coalition partners buy their equipment from domestic vendors to support their national economy, and they use protocols that best fit their needs,” explains Semra. “On a multinational mission like the one in Afghanistan, therefore, coalition members cannot communicate with their partners using their own equipment.”
“The same problem exists among first responders,” she adds. “First responders buy their equipment depending on their budgets, their need to upgrade and their requirements. All of these factors can create incompatibility among the communications devices of organizations and nations.”
On a coalition mission such as the one in Afghanistan, either the leading nation or NATO distributes communications equipment. Doing so, however, often creates its own challenges.
“There’s a learning curve as coalition partners learn to use the new equipment,” says Semra.
The situation is similar closer to home. First responders on both sides of the Canada–U.S. border have to carry the other team’s radio in order to communicate. If an emergency involves more organizations, first responders might have to carry multiple radios.
Opening the information gates
“To solve this problem, NATO is developing new standards that will allow nations to use their own equipment,” says Semra. “This means that a network communication gateway has to be developed to convert nations’ systems to the NATO standard. My team and I are building such a ‘gateway box’ for the Canadian army as part of its contribution to NATO.”
This box will provide solutions to common communications problems with other NATO countries, such as linking voice and e-mail systems and situation awareness tools. The box could also be useful for enhancing interoperability among many organizations here and abroad, including the army, air force, navy and first responders.
Semra’s team is also finding a way to channel different radio frequencies into a digital language so that voice communications devices can communicate with each other.
The system they are building converts incoming radio waves into digital information and relays it to the right destination over a network. It can also be used in reverse, allowing users of cellular phones and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) to communicate with people who are using radios.
And it would allow groups using different radio frequencies, as quite often happens with police, fire and ambulance services, to communicate.
“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is currently involved in the project, which may expand to other police forces and other public safety organizations in the future,” says Semra.
“The difficulty has been integrating components, protocols and operating systems from many different manufacturers so that they work together,” says Semra. “Perhaps the real breakthrough was in getting different organizations to agree to use standardized communication when working together.”
A supportive workplace
Semra credits the CRC, where she has been working for almost two decades, with giving her the flexibility to pursue a career and get an education at the same time. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science specializing in mathematics from Carleton University while working full time.