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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The destroyed Bones Smokehouse in the 7600 block of East Brainerd Road is in the foreground, while the rubble of Advanced Auto Parts is in the background. The Chattanooga Area was hit by EF 3 tornado on the night of April 12, 2020.

Hamilton County is looking to provide emergency weather radios to vulnerable citizens ahead of severe weather forecasted next spring.

Emergency Management Director Chris Adams said in a presentation to the county commission that the department is seeking grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Firehouse Subs to get nearly 5,000 radios to alert citizens of severe weather.

The applications come as the county is preparing for warm, wet weather and a potential influx of storms in the spring of 2021.

"We've been in touch with the National Weather Service looking at their extended forecast, and next spring doesn't look real promising," Adams said. "They say we're in what's called El Niño right now, which is going to give us a pattern of severe weather again this spring.

"So we're a little worried about notifications and what we can do to let the public know. "

After a deadly EF3 tornado ripped through Hamilton County and the surrounding area late on Easter, causing $420 million in damage, concerns resurfaced about the county's lack of a standard alert system.

(READ MORE: How a deadly tornado snuck up on some Hamilton County residents, not others)

County officials explained that due to Hamilton County's terrain and the nearby nuclear plant, alarm sirens would be ineffective. So, most residents rely on NWS push notifications, which were sent on Easter, but others didn't get alerts due to aging cellphones.

"We've looked at a lot of solutions, and none of them really work for our terrain in our county," Adams said. "But the weather radio seems to be [more] effective."

Between the potential $75,000 from the state — which the county would match with an additional $25,000 — and the $20,000 from Firehouse Subs, the county would be looking at purchasing and programming several thousand radios, if granted the funds to do so.

"We got to looking at our hazard mitigation plan and we found a grant embedded in there where we could possibly buy — if we're selected — weather radios," Adams explained. "We made it through the first step and now we can apply, so that we could get $100,000 worth, which is 4,000 weather radios, our group will program them, and then we'll hand them out to the public at no charge."

In distributing the FEMA-funded radios, the county would be required to prioritize "the most vulnerable populations."

"I don't know yet how they determine that, we'll find out if we get selected," Adams said. "The Firehouse Subs doesn't have that stipulations, if we get that grant. It can be first come first serve."

Adams is optimistic the radios could help.

"This is 85% effective across our entire nation. The best way to notify people comes straight out of the National Weather Service when there's a weather event," Adams said.

"After the Easter tornadoes, that was one thing that became clear to me, to get one of those, so I did," Chairman Chip Baker said.

"I guess the big question will be how they get distributed."

The commission will vote on resolutions to apply for the grants next week.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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