PhD student’s model for saving lives recognised with award

14 JUNE 2022

PhD student’s model for saving lives recognised with award

PhD student is recognised with award for her life-saving search and rescue model that was devised as part of her Honours research at Charles Sturt.

  • Charles Sturt PhD student wins the ACT chapter of the Asia-Pacific Spatial Excellence Awards SSSI Undergraduate Student award

A PhD candidate has received an award in recognition of the high quality of her Honours work, completed while studying a Bachelor of Science (Honours) at Charles Sturt University.

Ms Krystal Dacey recently received the ACT chapter of the Asia-Pacific Spatial Excellence Awards SSSI Undergraduate Student award for her Honours project, titled ‘Using Agent-Based Modelling to prioritise search areas for lost people in the Australian wilderness’.

Ms Dacey is a PhD candidate at Charles Sturt, studying a Doctor of Philosophy, but she received the award as part of her Honours studies in the School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences.

Her studies are anchored at Charles Sturt in Albury-Wodonga but Ms Dacey is living in Canberra.

The Honours project was based around a volunteer group in the ACT called Mapping and Planning Support (MAPS) for Geographic Information Systems, which is run out of the Emergency Services Agency.

The group is comprised of professionals who want to provide their mapping expertise in natural disasters and search and rescue.

Ms Dacey has been a member of the group for four years and has since helped on search and rescue tasks by mapping search areas for the Australian Federal Police.

“One of the search teams was given a search area but later came back because it was too densely vegetated,” she said.

“I thought to myself, ‘we have access to spatial data, we could have told them that’. From there, an idea sparked to try and get more spatial analysis into search and rescue.”

Ms Dacey was supervised by Charles Sturt’s Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Science and Health Associate Professor Rachel Whitsed and Senior Lecturer in Environmental Management Dr Prue Gonzalez.

To create an agent-based model for her research, Ms Dacey needed three things – agents, an environment and interaction. The model works as intended, which Ms Dacey said opens potential for future use in real life.

“The day the model worked, and the agents started moving around autonomously, was one of the top 10 greatest days of my life,” she said.

“This model takes what search and rescue commanders look for when determining search areas but uses statistically significant, lost person data and georeferenced terrain data to provide evidence-based output.”

Ms Dacey is working with the ACT Emergency Services Agency to test and validate the model with real-life search and rescue data.

She is also working on PhD research that expands on her Honours project, titled ‘Navigation and the environment: Understanding the interaction between human navigation behaviour and terrain through Agent-Based Modelling in the Australian wilderness’.

The project aims to use predictive spatial modelling incorporating human navigation strategies and terrain to predict how people move in the wilderness.

“I am hoping these insights can be useful not only in finding lost people, but also determining the most efficient path between two points in the environment, emergency evacuation modelling and finding commonalities in how humans move for protected area management.”

Ms Dacey said the award win was a nice recognition from people in her field who understand the intricacies of her research.

“Being able to take an idea that I had one day to a functioning model with output that has potential uses in saving people’s lives is incredible and having people recognise all the hard work it took to get here is very rewarding,” she said.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Ms Krystal Dacey, contact Nicole Barlow at Charles Sturt Media on 0429 217 026 or

Photo caption: PhD student Ms Krystal Dacey is presented her award by SSSI ACT Region Chair Mr Noel Ward.

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Albury-Wodonga Canberra Charles Sturt University Science