The Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that "substantial progress" has been made in devising an emergency plan to protect residents near the Indian Point atomic power plants, 35 miles north of New York City.

FEMA forwarded its findings to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the eve of today's NRC vote on whether to shut down the reactors to await an adequate plan for evacuating or sheltering residents within 10 miles of the facility in the event of a severe accident.

The NRC last month said it would close the plants today unless substantial steps were taken to eliminate "significant deficiencies" in the existing emergency plan.

FEMA, which reported on the basis of two earlier tests that it "cannot assure that the public health and safety can be protected" in the densely populated area around the plants, told the NRC yesterday that a new "full-scale" evacuation exercise would be conducted in 60 days.

"Our evaluation indicates that work on the two emergency planning deficiencies of most progressing favorably," deputy executive director Jeffrey S. Bragg said in a letter to NRC Chairman Nunzio J. Palladino.

He said the changes made offer "a sound approach to resolution of remaining difficulties.

"It now appears that continuation of this commitment and momentum should bring about responsive corrections to the deficiencies noted in our earlier report," Bragg said.