What can New Jersey's electric companies do to reduce power outages, restore electricity faster after major storms, and keep customers more informed?

The state Board of Public Utilities is answering that question following two devastating storms last year, including Hurricane Irene that knocked out power to half of the state's electric customers.

Southern New Jersey avoided the brunt of the Aug. 28 hurricane--later categorized as a tropical storm-and entirely missed a sudden October snowstorm.

However, a BPU-commissioned report by Emergency Preparedness Partnerships included some recommendations for Mays-Landing-based Atlantic City Electric, which has 547,000 customers in eight South Jersey counties.

And an ongoing public comment session on the report can touch on a utility's response to other storms, including the June 30 derecho storm that left more than 200,000 Atlantic City Electric customers without power at one point, BPU spokesman Greg Reinert cqsaid. Atlantic and Cumberland counties were hardest hit, and some were without power for a week.

"Someone could certainly relate the derecho to what's in the report and what it's saying about Atlantic City Electric or what it's saying about general preparedness and responses," Reinert said.

Atlantic City Electric avoided much of the criticism in the 263-page report on the 2011 storms, which follows a preliminary one by the BPU.

In some parts, the report praised some of the utility's practices, including its use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube safety videos, as well as spending 23 percent above its budget for tree-trimming from 2007 to 2011.

It also included suggestions to avoid industry jargon in public communications, and to insure safety and outage tips are given the highest priority.

Along with other utilities, Atlantic City Electric--a subsidiary of Pepco Holdings Inc. that owns utilities in other states--should ensure they are clear what resources will go to New Jersey in a multiple-state disaster, the report says.

The BPU is taking written comments until Sept. 20. They can be emailed to board.secretary@bpu.state.nj.

"We're not really looking for comments on how the storms affected people. We heard those. Lots of them. These comments are about what should the board's action be-what should the board make the electric companies do now," Reinert said.

Lendel Jones, cqa spokeswoman for Atlantic City Electric, said a number of recommendations in the report included things the utility has already been doing.

The company has a drill set this week to prepare for it is response to a simulated storm, she said.

"We are always looking at ways to improve our response time," Jones said. "We're still having meetings for lessons learned during the derecho power outages. As far as putting all that to paper, it hasn't been done yet, but we are having continual meetings on where we can constantly improve."