The funding was inspired by problems that arose in New Jersey after superstorm Sandy, when gas was rationed because so many stations were without power.

The state is also exploring regulations for facilities as diverse as nursing homes, dialysis centers and wastewater treatment plants to ensure that they are all prepared for extended outages, Hopper said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the county executives of six surrounding jurisdictions complained after the derecho that utilities would not provide block-by-block information on outages. The utilities cited privacy concerns. While state energy regulators gave them a preliminary OK to release such details during superstorm Sandy, a permanent plan to decide what information can be released and when awaits a decision.

Other changes to improve response to mass power outages are already in place.

At MEMA, for example, officials learned the importance of compiling a list of nursing homes and other vulnerable facilities. Various agencies kept tabs on their facilities, but it wasn't until the past year that MEMA established a centralized list, McDonough said.

BGE, hammered by complaints about crews that appeared idle as outages lingered, established new policies that could shorten the length of many outages.

A year ago, crews needed to wait for approval from headquarters before performing certain tasks, which caused backlogs, said Steve Woerner, BGE's chief operating officer. Now field workers have been trained to sign off on the tasks themselves.

The utility also altered procedures for repairing downed lines, allowing crews to make emergency repairs restoring power for a portion of affected customers. Such stopgap repairs may add time and steps to fully restoring power for everyone, but could calm some frustrated customers.

"You can have overall great reliability and still have pockets of poor reliability," Woerner said. "We're trying to make sure nobody is that far from the system average."

sdance@baltsun.com

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