disaster readiness in los cabos & la paz

by cheryl miller, cips, abr, aia, broker, baja realty and investment

Many of us are veterans of Baja California Sur and have been through one or more storms, and we may know many 
ways to protect our property, lives and our comfort after the storm, (and we learn from each storm that occurs), but,
many new home owners are not familiar with hurricanes and tropical storms.   In this crazy season of 2017, we have
seen here and in many parts of the world, extreme climates that have caused damage and destruction, cost lives, and has caused discomfort and distress.

So, it is an apt subject to let our new home owner’s and potential buyers to know what to do to prepare for a storm in the future. If you are ready, you will be fine!

Although most of the past damages here in Baja California Sur have been from hurricanes, as we just saw, a strong tropical storm like Lidia can bring with it a new set of challenges and damage with water and mud.  But, what is to our advantage is that storms and hurricanes are something we have time to prepare for, unlike an earthquake, where there is no warning.
So here are a few tips:
Never underestimate a storm or hurricane.  As with Odile of 2014, the hurricane looked like it would miss us, and then within the last 6 hours or so, headed straight for us leaving many residents unprepared.  Storms are fickle and vary, so be prepared.  A few hours of work can save you thousands of dollars in damages and maybe your life.

NEVER buy a property in a flood zone or a low lying area next to a flood zone. A good real estate agent who has experience here in Los Cabos and La Paz knows those areas prone to inundation.  Heed their knowledge.  When these forces occur, there is nothing humanly possible to thwart them.  If your real estate agent is a newbie, you can also check with the government, who has maps of known areas of flood and inundation and that can be added to your offer as a contingency.  Either you or a paid consult can check those maps and secure more information about the area where you want to buy.

If you are not here year round, arrange with a property manager, neighbor, friend or worker to be on call to “hurricane proof” your property in your absence.  To do so, in advance of any event, procure hurricane protections, bring in or strap down any item that is “loose” on your property, such as patio furniture, BBQs, potted plants or awnings.  During a hurricane, literally anything not strapped down or put away will fly away or be moved from its original position.  I once saw a 600 pound steel cabinet move 5 feet from its original position during a hurricane…something that took 4 men to move!  If you have delicate trees, consider installing wooden poles and strapping them against the wind.

Another word or two about strapping and hurricane protections: Most of the failures I have witnessed of these systems were not the systems themselves, but failure of their connections to the building.  Any bolts or connections installed into the building should be installed with an epoxy resinous compound in addition to the “pressure” from the lag bolt itself. This will insure that the lag bolts will not “pop out” from their holes in the block or concrete.

Hurricane protections: There are several systems on the market. Some come from the U.S. and carry a Dade County, Florida rating.  Others do not.  You can also build your own systems, as I did, from plywood and wood.  Again, securing the connections with epoxy is paramount for any system to be fully secure. I store these in a place, numbered and identified as to where they need to go so it is fast to install when the time comes.  Costs a little more, but well worth it!

Pre-planning:  During the early summer have the roof and walls of your home inspected.  Even though most waterproofing applications are guaranteed for 3-10 years, I choose to have a coat applied yearly.  The intense sun and heat can cause cracking and drying out of these liquid membranes and cause leaks.  Check the surface and corners for any cracks, lifting or peeling.  Repair these areas first. Apply sealant to all downspout joints and openings in the roof. And always wrap the waterproofing system up the wall at least 4 inches.  Do NOT wait until the rainy season to do this maintenance. First, waterproofing systems should not be applied in moist conditions. Second, it seems to be human nature to procrastinate until the last minute and then all of the installers are busy. Check for loose or cracked tile. Repair. These are potential projectiles during a hurricane.

Check your drainage systems for clogging.  It you have received water run-off in the past from neighboring properties or streets, consider installing a retaining or diversion wall.  When it rains, inspect your yard for any place during a heavy storm, that may cause flooding to the interior of your home, and rectify the situation BEFORE it becomes a problem. Changing the grade of the land, building diversion walls or installing drainage pipes and catch basins are not difficult to do, but can save the interior of your home during a heavy storm.

Check the walls and exterior of your home for any possible point water can come in….Exterior outlets, lighting fixtures, switches. All exterior protrusions or openings should be sealed with watertight covers, plastered and painted or caulked. Trust me, during high wind/rain situations, any small opening can cause severe damage to interiors…water will find it and get in, potentially spreading many feet from the actual opening.

Before a storm hits, turn off your gas lines.


When building new, use the connector systems and methods from the United States or Canada.  A strong connection can save that palapa or carport. You can also retrofit any existing construction

Always, have on hand the following items:
Bottle water. Assume ½ gallon per person per day.  Assume another extra ¼ gallon per pet per day. You should always have at least 1 week’s worth of water stored for this emergency at all times. But remember, store the water for no more than 3 months if it was a refillable source.  Sealed bottles of water last longer, but self-filled water may grow bacteria or amoebas, so rotate your supply.  (I am a single woman living alone, but I always have 6 to 8 Five-gallon jugs of water on hand, and I rotate them and refill them religiously.)

If you have a bathtub, fill it before the storm hits. This can be used for additional drinking, bathing and flushing water.  You may be without an additional supply of water for a period of time!

Batteries. Store them in the refrigerator for longer life.  Check your lanterns, radios and other battery operated devices for the size, and have at least 2 sets on hand in your crisper or margarine compartment.  Because of the salt air, regularly check these battery devices for corrosion at the battery poles and the batteries themselves.
Having a small generator is advisable.  This can run your refrigerator/freezer for your fresh food supply.  Run it a few hours every 8-12 hours, and that should keep your food edible for some time. Have a supply of fuel always on hand.  After a hurricane, electricity may be shut off for as much as 3 weeks, fuel deliveries halted for an extended period of time.  So be prepared.
For a small amount of money you can purchase a solar phone recharger.  Although the phones may be down for a while, once service is restored, you will want and need your cell phone.  A solar charger ensures that you can recharge, even if there is no electricity.   Of course, a full solar system is your best bet against discomfort and lack of service, but that may not be possible for everyone!
Fill your washing machine with ice before the storm.  This will give you about 2 days of cold capacity to store perishable foods, if you do not have a generator.

Obtain extra cash. After a hurricane the banks may be closed for extended periods of time. You will not be able to withdraw cash from the ATM…So place an emergency cash source in a safe place in your home and keep it for such emergencies.  DO NOT depend on getting cash hours before the storm hits. The ATM’s supply often run out in a matter of hours.
Canned or dried foods.  Always have on hand sufficient non-perishable food sufficient for at least 1 week.  And remember your pets too!
Have on hand a whistle or horn to signal for help in case of major damages. Flashlights or lanterns, candles and a first aid kit. 
Fill your car’s gas tank before a storm. Don’t wait until the last minute, your precious preparation time may be expended in a gas line for several hours!

Back up your electronics: The best way is a cloud service, or a detachable back up drive you can store in a plastic re-sealable bag in a safe during the storm.

Make copies of important documents and place them in a fire proof safe in plastic, re-sealable bags.

Insurance coverage: Various companies offer hurricane and flood insurance. Contact an agent well before a hurricane. Many policies require a 30 day waiting period to be in force.

If you are present during a hurricane, crack a window on either side of the house on all floors. This relieves pressure created by the forces of the wind, and may save the windows in your homes. Contrary to belief, taping your windows does not save them from being broken. Stay in a safe place with your animals away from windows and potential shattering of the glass.

If asked to evacuate- DO IT! Discuss an evacuation plan with your family members before it is necessary!

As with anywhere in the world, Mother Nature can provide its challenges.  Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, fires…there is something for everyone all around the world.  Los Cabos and La Paz have been fortunate to not have had major disasters on a regular basis, but they do occur.  So a little pre-planning, thought and supplies can get you through those rare occasions and save your investment.

By Cheryl T. Miller, Broker of Baja Realty and Investment/Architect.  Contact her for more information at 521-624-122-2690 or at infoforsaleinbaja.com, serving Baja California Sur for 14 years.