Frequently-asked Questions

What is your UK coverage?

Harwell offers a 24-hour call-out facility nationwide throughout the UK and Ireland with key personnel strategically located.

Why do I need a specialist service provider?

The recovery and restoration of paper-based material is a very specialist area. Delays in stabilising paper or its mishandling can cause rapid unnecessary deterioration. It is therefore vital that a specialist is swiftly appointed to recover, stabilise and restore the material as only they will have the capacity, and expertise to deal successfully with a range of materials. Appointing Harwell directly avoids additional delays in the supply chain and ensures prompt recovery of damaged material and fast reinstatement with the insured.

Harwell concentrates solely on this particular aspect of damage management and therefore can offer unrivalled practical experience and capacity. Harwell remains the UK's most trusted specialist in this area, pre-appointed by over 800 records management, archive and library professionals who recognise Harwell’s track-record and high-quality service.

Isn’t everything electronic these days?

Failure to restore business documents can have great consequences in terms of business interruption. Business Continuity experts have estimated that over half of businesses that lose key data will go out of business after the incident. Certain professions remain highly reliant on paper-based records and work in progress, and in others, the fraction of hard-copy data that remains is absolutely critical for business continuity. Furthermore, financial documents must be retained for at least six years after creation and human resources and medical records are often required for an even longer period.

A scanned document or computer data is no substitute for a hard-copy document in a financial or legal context. Failure to produce original documents due to damage in a fire or flood is not deemed to be exculpating excuse and can result in severe penalties. By swiftly stabilising paper-based media after damage has occurred, key data can be located and restored, minimising the extent of any interruption. Harwell’s fast-tracking service can also significantly enhance business continuity.

Wouldn't it be cheaper to replace?

In the vast majority of cases, no. Drying and fire contamination charges can be as low as £1 per book, depending on the size. The more specialist the subject area, the higher the replacement value of the text - the average replacement cost of an academic text is over £30. Of course, this question pre-supposes that replacement is an option - for business documentation, archival documents and antiquarian books, restoration is the only option, and increases the importance of a fast reaction.

In over 90% of all cases of water-damage and fire damage to paper, it is possible to restore to a high standard. A quick reaction and prompt stabilisation will absolutely minimise the restoration costs, and even when there has been further deterioration through paper distortion, ink-migration and mould growth, it still often proves more economical to dry and treat than to replace. Restoration is also increasingly being seen as the greener option by insurers.

Why is a fast reaction important?

For two reasons: to prevent further deterioration and to promote business continuity. After wetting, paper begins to deteriorate due to the presence of water, through mould growth, paper distortion, ink migration, page adhesions and so on. Through freezing water-damaged paper, this further deterioration is halted, thus minimising the costs of any restoration, and affording the insured/insurer to work out which items should be restored, which items can be disposed of, and which items should be fast-tracked for business continuity reasons, without the risk of further deterioration.

Business or operational interruption is a major concern for companies, universities, and local authority services after a fire or flood. Loss of key texts for a University Library a month before exams commence would have serious implications for its service commitments, as would loss of key financial documents for a small business, as would the closure of a local lending library. These concerns further emphasise the need for a prompt reaction through stabilisation - freezing within 48 hours of the water incursion can halve the time for restoration. Failure to freeze promptly could result in the need mould remediation, page separation and other corrective procedures, all of which are negated through a prompt reaction. This means that reinstatement of the restored items and service resumption will happen sooner.

How can Harwell guarantee confidentiality and security of sensitive documents?

Harwell’s Head Office is based on a high security government site which is protected by its own Police Constabulary. Access to the site is therefore heavily restricted and this ensures that confidential and sensitive documentation enjoys a high level of protection during restoration.

Furthermore, Harwell’s staff are background checked to a high level in order to be granted access to this site and are all required to adhere to a strict confidentiality policy on the projects we process.

How long does drying take?

The rate of drying depends on the level of saturation and the shape of the item to be dried. A heavily saturated book could take 14 days to dry, as it is important to draw the moisture out slowly to prevent over-drying and maintain a high-quality of result. A water-damaged paper file, with a larger surface area to volume ratio may take only days to dry. On average a drying cycle takes 7 days to complete but particular items can be fast-tracked for business continuity reasons.

What are your quality standards?

Harwell implements a stringent quality control system in order to ensure high standards in all elements of its restoration procedures and traceability of documents and books at all stages of the restoration process. Harwell achieved ISO accreditation in 2002, and is regularly scrutinises quality protocols to ensure traceability and customer satisfaction.

What can owners of damaged items do as first aid measures?

Incorrect handling of damaged items, particularly water-damaged items, can cause unnecessary further damage, due to the fragility of the paper when wet. Furthermore, fire and flood situations can be dangerous, and it is important to ensure that anyone handling water or fire damaged items wears the correct personal protective equipment and the area is safe to enter.

The priority, after phoning Harwell and ensuring freezer vehicles are on their way, should be to prevent undamaged items from being affected from the source of the water incursion, for example through evacuating via a human chain, or through shielding with polythene sheeting. Thereafter items should be evacuated in order of priority - priority can be determined for reasons of business/operational continuity, value (monetary/historical), vulnerability when wet or difficulty in replacement.

Any loose spines or covers should be secured polythene bags to keep material together. Any books which have been damaged whilst open should not be closed, Single sheet items on the floor should be picked up using mylar sheets. Large items such as maps can be removed in their original drawers to minimise handling. With the exception of certain specialist items, all paper can be frozen safely. Further advice can be obtained from contacting Harwell.