Maj Michael Thomas
Lt Col Billy Asbell
Dr. Melinda Higgins
Mr. Nick Faust

National Guard GIS and Related Technologies for Counterdrug Law Enforcement

The National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Office (NGB-CD), through their Technology Programs, have over the past several years implemented an innovative blend of GIS, digital mapping, enhanced visualization, virtual reality, electro-optics, sensor fusion, modeling and simulation, data acquisition, and other operational assessment technologies. These programs support and incorporate NGB-CD assets such as their Digital Mapping Center (DMC), aerial reconnaissance platforms, law enforcement training centers, and Nationwide counterdrug task forces. This presentation will provide an overview of the many National Guard GIS Technology programs in operation and the extensive collaborative environment supported.


The United States National Guard Counterdrug Program (NGB-CD) is a national counter-narcotics program utilizing the National Guard membership in major communities. This program provides highly skilled personnel, specialized equipment, and facilities to support counterdrug law enforcement agencies (DLEAs) and community based organizations to better respond to the changing drug threat in our Nation. Since 1989 the National Guard has been supporting law enforcement organizations in their efforts to counter the drug threat in the United States. On any given day the National Guard Counterdrug Program has over 3,000 Guard personnel on active duty nationwide supporting the all fifty states and four territories with counterdrug programs. These efforts include providing personnel, training, facilities, assets, knowledge, methodology and access to emerging technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing image processing, and global positioning systems (GPS).

GIS Initiatives Overview

NGB-CD through its Counterdrug Geographical Regional Assessment Sensor System (CD-GRASS) program has incorporated and collaboratively networked many technologies including a Decision Support System (DSS) fusing GIS, operational intelligence, historical mission data, and remote sensing imagery to support counterdrug operations; a Digital Mapping Server (DMS) incorporating ArcIMS (Internet Map Server) for dedicated mapping and GIS support to NGB-CD and drug law enforcement agencies (DLEAs); GIS support to counterdrug law enforcement through NGB-CD's Digital Mapping Center (DMC) and counterdrug GIS training (CD-GIST) program, as well as other technology evaluation tasks.

DMC (Digital Mapping Center)

The digital mapping center (DMC, formerly known as the digital mapping initiative, DMI) has been in operation since 1992 providing DLEAs with free computer generated mapping products custom designed for their needs and applied to everything from mission planning to intelligence analysis. Maps are produced from digitized data provided from numerous sources. Map products can be produced in a variety of scales from 1:2,000,000 to 1:24,000 or larger for customers with local interests. Products can be provided showing terrain features, aeronautical information, rivers, lakes, counties, cities, roads, highways, latitude-longitude grids, towers, and more. In addition, maps can be customized to include arrest statistics, seizures, marijuana growing statistics, etc. Location data (either GPs or latitude-longitude information) for customized maps must be provided by the requesting client, who can obtain the coordinates from many sources including autonomous handheld GPs units. Street-level mapping products derived from US Census Bureau TIGER data can also be provided at scales of 1:12,000 to 1:10,000. All products are provided free of charge for a counterdrug mission. In fiscal year 2000, the DMC provided fifty thousand pages of maps to their clients. The largest group of users is state and local law enforcement agencies, which requested fifty percent of their production. [For more information, please see]

CD-GRASS (Counterdrug Geographical Regional Assessment Sensor System) Program

The National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Office (NGB-CD), through the Counterdrug Geographical Regional Assessment Sensor System (CD-GRASS) program, lead by the Georgia Tech Research Institute, is incorporating an innovative blend of GIS, digital mapping, enhanced visualization, virtual reality, electro-optics, sensor fusion, modeling and simulation, data acquisition, and other operational assessment technologies. The mission of CD-GRASS is information integration, assessment, and decision support to counterdrug operations through state-of-the-art technology transfer. The CD-GRASS program also incorporates National Guard Bureau assets including their Digital Mapping Center (DMC), aerial reconnaissance and sensor deployment, law enforcement training centers, and 54 state and territory counterdrug task forces. In addition to supporting GIS technology enhancements for DMC, the CD-GRASS program has two additional GIS focused efforts: a counterdrug Decision Support System (DSS) and a Digital Mapping Server (DMS) portal.

DSS (Decision Support System)

As part of the CD-GRASS program, the National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Office (NGB-CD) has also funded the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Higher Learning (USM-CHL) to design and build a Decision Support System (DSS). The goal of this DSS is to develop a system that will increase the efficiency of the planning and conduct of marijuana eradication operations. The ultimate users of the DSS will be the State DLEAs, and the National Guard Counterdrug personnel in support of counterdrug operations. One of the fundamental problems relating to the eradication of marijuana cultivated outdoors is the size of the search area relative to the available resources. The 'heart' of the DSS will be a rule-based expert system module that identifies areas with a high potential for marijuana cultivation.

Decision Support System Concept

Figure 1: Decision Support System (DSS) Concept

The DSS will have a single headquarters node consisting of a cluster of servers and workstations that access and process data to produce a suite of map layers. The primary map layer will provide verification of geographic areas with the highest likelihood of marijuana cultivation sites. This layer will be the output of a rules-based expert system. The decision layer, supplemental map layers, and other information will then be distributed to law enforcement agencies via an Internet-based communications network. Field nodes (aircraft and ground-crew laptop computers) will also be able to download this information at a district office via the network for use during their search/eradication operations in the field.

DMS (Digital Mapping Server) Portal

To address the extensive spatial land attribute data requirements to support a GIS environment, the Digital Mapping Server (DMS) portal has also been initiated. This technology is based on current Commercial and Government initiatives underway such as the Geography Network, the Open GIS Consortium, and FGDC I-team initiatives. This system will allow all levels of users to access GIS data from verifiable sources via the next generation of Internet by simply querying DMS. This is the primary GIS backbone of the CD-GRASS program.

Digital Mapping Server Portal Concept

Figure 2: Digital Mapping Server (DMS) Portal Concept

CD-GIST (Counterdrug Geographic Information Systems Training)

In addition to DMC and the CD-GRASS program, the National Guard Bureau has begun the Counterdrug Geographical Information Systems Training (CD-GIST) Initiative to address GIS training requirements. CD-GIST focuses on training law enforcement professionals on related aspects of GIS principles and software. Through the efforts of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), the four NGB schools and the National Guard Bureau Environmental Programs Division (NGB-ARE), law enforcement officers and staff will learn how GIS can assist them in their mission. Participants will also learn how to use the most common commercially available GIS software. With support from the DOJ/NIJ Crime Mapping Research Center (CMRC), this program is destined to change the way DLEAs maintain historical documentation and the methodology they use to conduct investigations and operations.

CD-GIST Illustration

Figure 3: CD-GIST Focuses on GIS Principles and GIS Software
and Leverage Many Partnerships

Other Related Technologies

The National Guard Counterdrug Office is also pursuing a number of additional technologies to support law enforcement which also have some connection to GIS activities. One of the many services NGB-CD provides counterdrug law enforcement is the evaluation of currently available products that may be acquired to increase their capability as well as effectiveness. Some of the technologies evaluated and operationally integrated to date include:

Collaborative Efforts

The success of the CD-GRASS program, the Digital Mapping Center and the National Guard Counterdrug programs overall are due to partnerships and collaborative efforts with over 21 Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies, Universities, and non-profit organizations. In 2002 NGB-CD is expanding the success of CD-GRASS program into the "NGB-CD Technology Consortium," which will foster collaboration among of a wide variety of agencies to enhance counterdrug law enforcement operations. The presentation of this paper will highlight the technology support to law enforcement provided by these programs through geographic information systems (GIS), training and applications to field operations. [See for more information.]

NGB-CD Program Partnerships

Figure 4: The Many Partnerships of the National Guard Counterdrug Programs

Major Michael Thomas
Technology Projects Officer
National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Office (NGB-CD)

Lt Col Billy Asbell
Deputy Chief Special Projects Division
National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Office (NGB-CD)

Dr. Melinda K. Higgins
Counterdrug Geographical Regional Assessment Sensor System (CD-GRASS) Program Manager
Georgia Tech Research Institute

Mr. Nick Faust
Associate Director for Georgia Tech GIS Center
Technical Director for the CD-GRASS Program
Georgia Tech Research Institute