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When a major flood event devastates roads, bridges, shops, homes and your business by threatening to destroy vital documents, who are you going to call? 

Saturday, 5 December, 2015 and Storm Desmond hit Carlisle, Kendal and Keswick like a hammer blow. Town centres overflowed as run-off from the fells quickly fed through to river catchments, causing overwhelming volumes of water and damaging local infrastructure such as roads and bridges. 

When the waters eventually receded, thousands of commercial and domestic properties discovered the aftermath of flooding: building fabric and contents saturated and covered in hazardous sludge contaminated by sewage and potentially dangerous chemicals from broken pipes, boilers and machinery. For many businesses this meant that critical documents were badly damaged – fragile, toxic and in need of restoration.   

Energy company, United Utilities, was one of those businesses. Here’s what they did to rescue themselves from a crisis. 

The crisis

Two sites, at Kendal and Keswick, were both waterlogged and, knowing there were some business-critical documents submerged in their offices, United Utilities’ facilities project manager’s first call was to Restore to ask for an urgent solution. Even though it was unclear, initially, how much unique material was affected, the experienced records managers at Restore knew there would be a substantial number requiring rescue and restoration. Thanks to their experience and expertise, Restore knew who to contact in order to arrange an emergency response and salvage team to go into United Utilities’ offices. Working in partnership with a market-leading specialist commercial document restoration company in the UK, Restore had the capacity to contend with major loss events such as the Cumbria floods, but the clock was ticking. 

Would they make it in time? 

The rescue

Over 60 crates of documents were damaged by the floods and identified as requiring restoration as the content had not been digitised and so they were unique, irreplaceable. 

But what does water damage mean for a paper-based record? Left untreated, it means mould grows and rapid deterioration sets in, exacerbating the impact of the flooding, and increasing the cost and time-scales for restoration. To protect against this, the usual steps in restoration are these:

· freezing water-damaged records quickly to prevent mould growth
· considering an insurance claim, which freezing enables by giving the owners of the records time
· checking what is digitised, and
· identifying exactly which records are critical for restoration.
 

In this case, United Utilities’ records were collected just before Christmas 2015, taken to be stabilised, pending the authorisation of works, and then dried using specialist vacuum-drying technology which is excellent for paper, then sanitised to kill biohazards so that the files were safe to handle once again. The restoration experts then cleaned the documents to remove the traces of river debris and silt that were affecting their legibility. 

The entire process took place over the course of several months, with a number of business-critical documents fast-tracked according to need. 

The outcome

Restore and their partners managed to restore all the flooded documents to almost original condition, with only slight ‘bleeding’ in some colouring of the print. When United Utilities received their sample records, they were delighted with the results and, to avoid any further mishap with their storage, decided to keep them safe and secure off-site at one of Restore’s specialist facilities. 

Thanks to Restore’s quick thinking to call in expert paper restorers, the salvage operation and uplift of the waterlogged documents was completed before Christmas. This swift action meant that losses were minimised, there was no need to claim costs on insurance and, with the fast-track facility available for critical documents, there was minimal interruption to the energy provider’s business. There was no drama other than that created by the floods – just a calm, collected response and immediate recovery process. 

For more information about Restore’s disaster recovery and specialist document management services  www.restore.co.uk/specialist-services or call 0333 220 1139.

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