Emergency Sirens

Emergency Sirens were put in to place to warn the public who are outside that there is an emergency and that they should seek shelter immediately.  Historically the sirens across the nation were used for a variety of reasons including civil air defense warnings for attacks on the United States and also for severe weather conditions.  

To ensure transparency in the community we have provided a response to some of the most frequent questions we receive from the public.  If you have any further questions please contact the Fire Chief.

1. Question: “Why can I not hear the tornado sirens when I am inside a building?” 

Response:    Outdoor warning sirens are designed for alerting people outside their homes and away from other media sources of imminent danger from an approaching storm. It is designed to warn these people outside to take cover immediately. The sirens are not designed as a consistent warning system for persons inside of structures.

While sirens can be heard inside, there are a variety of factors that can influence someone's ability to hear the siren, such as topography, obstructions between the siren and the structure, construction of the building or residence, other noise sources (TV, radios, hail, wind, etc), and distance from the siren. Individuals are responsible for monitoring conditions for their personal safety. 


2. Question: “If I can not hear the sirens inside my residence then how do I know there is severe weather and I need to take shelter?”

Response: The National Weather Service has created a warning system that consists of Watches and Warnings for a variety of weather conditions to keep people informed. These informational watches and warnings are broadcasted over local radio and television stations, NOAA Weather Radios, and/ or downloaded weather apps on your smart phone.  

Weather alert radios are designed to receive broadcasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) thru the National Weather Service (NWS). These devices only broadcast weather information and are a valuable tool for monitoring severe conditions and are available in both desktop and portable units.

It is also important for individuals to understand the NWS Warning system. A Watch (Severe Thunderstorm or Tornado) means that conditions are right for these types of storms to occur. During a watch, people should monitor conditions and be prepared to take shelter. A Warning means that the severe weather is occurring in the area (Thunderstorm or Tornado) at this time, people should seek shelter immediately. People should not wait until the sirens are activated or a tornado is actually sighted in their specific area as this is too late. A Warning is the time when people need to be in a protected place monitoring conditions until they improve and the situation passes.


3. Question: “Why did the sirens activate when we did not receive a Tornado Warning.” 


Response:  Tornadoes can rapidly develop during a severe thunderstorm without warning and the Pontiac Fire Department will always respond in accordance to their mission statement which is to “Protect the lives and property of the citizens of Pontiac from natural and man-made hazards through education, prevention, and mitigation.” If there is any kind of threat to our community due to tornado or extremely dangerous wind conditions and there is a risk to life then the Pontiac Fire Department will act in the best interest of human life and sound the sirens. 


4. Question: “Why did I not hear an “All Clear” siren?"

Response: The Pontiac Fire Department decided a few years ago to disband the “All Clear” siren after recognizing that this process created confusion on whether the siren was meant for “All Clear” or another activation of the “Warning Siren” because of another severe weather threat.  This change was publicized in the past by previous Fire Department Administrators and I have kept the process in place.  

 To help clarify to the public our siren activation procedures I want to advise that there will NEVER be an "All Clear" signal from the outdoor warning sirens. People in or near the warned area should monitor reliable sources such as NOAA All-Hazards Radio, local media services, and City of Pontiac social media pages.  Citizens are also encouraged to join the City of Pontiac emergency alert system at https://www.pontiac.org/64/Emergency-Alert  and also sign up for NIXLE alerts by texting the zip code to 888777 to know when the threat has dissipated.

 5. Question: "How often are the sirens tested?"

Response: Both the Pontiac Fire Department and the Vermilion Valley Regional Emergency Communications Joint Authority (or VCOM) have the ability to sound the sirens upon the order of either the Pontiac Fire Department's Fire Chief or Shift Commander. The sirens are tested on the First Tuesday of each of month with the two agencies alternating who sounds the sirens for the test. The sirens also receive an annual inspection by a third party company that provides the preventative maintenance and repairs for the emergency system. If a siren fails to activate during an emergency please contact the Fire Chief so the department can further investigate the working condition of the emergency equipment.