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Applications of a simple spatiotemporal characterization of human gait in the surveillance domain are presented. The approach is based on decomposing a video sequence into x-t slices, which generate periodic patterns referred to as double helical signatures (DHSs). The features of DHS are given as follows: 1) they naturally encode the appearance and kinematics of human motion and reveal geometric symmetries and 2) they are effective and efficient for recovering gait parameters and detecting simple events. We present an iterative local curve embedding algorithm to extract the DHS from video sequences. Two applications are then considered. First, the DHS is used for simultaneous segmentation and labeling of body parts in cluttered scenes. Experimental results showed that the algorithm is robust to size, viewing angles, camera motion, and severe occlusion. Then, the DHS is used to classify load-carrying conditions. By examining various symmetries in DHS, activities such as carrying, holding, and walking with objects that are attached to legs are detected. Our approach possesses several advantages: a compact representation that can be computed in real time is used; furthermore, it does not depend on silhouettes or landmark tracking, which are sensitive to errors in background subtraction stage.