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Society is rapidly accepting the use of video cameras in many new and varied locations, but effective methods to utilize and manage the massive resulting amounts of visual data are only slowly developing. This paper presents a framework for live video analysis in which the behaviors of surveillance subjects are described using a vocabulary learned from recurrent motion patterns, for real-time characterization and prediction of future activities, as well as the detection of abnormalities. The repetitive nature of object trajectories is utilized to automatically build activity models in a 3-stage hierarchical learning process. Interesting nodes are learned through Gaussian mixture modeling, connecting routes formed through trajectory clustering, and spatio-temporal dynamics of activities probabilistically encoded using hidden Markov models. Activity models are adapted to small temporal variations in an online fashion using maximum likelihood regression and new behaviors are discovered from a periodic retraining for long-term monitoring. Extensive evaluation on various data sets, typically missing from other work, demonstrates the efficacy and generality of the proposed framework for surveillance-based activity analysis.