From Headlines to Headaches: How to Prepare Your Supply Chain for Disruptive Events

Traffic cones and a lighted detour sign with an arrow facing left

Whether it’s an infrastructure failure, an accident that shuts down traffic, or a Taylor Swift concert, changes to traffic patterns and volumes can interrupt your freight shipping plans in a big way. 

Less than halfway through 2024, multiple disruptive events have already affected the trucking industry in the U.S. Both the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore in late March and the total solar eclipse in April had an impact on supply chains. 

It’s always stressful when an event out of your control threatens to affect your supply chain. Throughout our nearly seven decades in the industry, Anderson Trucking Services (ATS) has helped shippers navigate disruptive events like holidays, severe weather, accidents — and yes, even solar eclipses. 

In this article, we’ll explain how (and why) unavoidable events like these can affect shipping, and what shippers like you can do to prepare. 

By the time you’re done with this quick read, you’ll feel confident about prepping your supply chain for the effects of disruptive events both foreseen and unexpected.

How Do Disruptive Events Affect Freight Shipping? 

Whether your facilities or shipments are in the geographic area directly affected by a supply chain interruption, you’ll still be impacted by it. Like a stone skipped across a pond, the ripples of a disruption can reach well beyond its initial point of impact. 

The good news is that the freight industry has weathered many crises in its history, and is remarkably nimble in its reactions to supply chain interruptions.

Regardless of the type of disruptive event in question, if it’s impactful enough to cause unusual movement of vehicles at volume, you can reasonably expect the freight industry to respond in one or more of the following ways: 

Carrier Capacity 

Carrier capacity will shift to accommodate changing needs and demand. This can make it harder to find truck and/or driver capacity in the areas immediately affected by the disruptive event in question. 

Depending on the type of disruption, the immediately affected areas may see a sudden spike in inbound trucks. In other cases, like the Key bridge collapse, other geographic areas outside the most acute zone of influence may experience this spike instead as they take on displaced freight.

Rate Increases

Other than changes in carrier capacity, changes in freight rates are often the first symptoms of a supply chain disruption. 

Rates will increase for inbound and outbound freight in the immediately affected areas as a result of the changes in capacity. 

Shippers whose freight must be rerouted due to a disruptive event may also experience a rate increase due to the additional time and labor required to implement their contingency plan. 

Shipment Delays

Inbound and outbound freight in the affected areas will be delayed and/or rerouted due to traffic, detours, travel restrictions, etc. 

Take the 2024 eclipse, for example. 11 states implemented travel restrictions and/or recommendations that stopped or limited over-dimensional (OD) freight movement during the eclipse. This inevitably delayed OD shipments affected by the restrictions, which had a domino-like effect on some supply chains. 

As mentioned above, disruption-related delays may add time and cost to shipments as providers work to find creative solutions and keep freight moving. 

Semi trucks with van trailers wait in a queue of traffic

Reduced Opportunities

Outbound freight opportunities from the affected areas may be limited, as many manufacturers tend to shut down during major weather events, public health crises, etc. 

Unfortunately, this can turn an otherwise lucrative lane into a backhaul overnight. Drivers want to complete a delivery knowing they have their next load lined up, and without the ability to do so, are forced to deadhead. 

Why should shippers care about reduced freight opportunities for drivers? Because it can lead to higher freight rates to cover the empty miles between loads.

Increased Detention

Resources for offloading freight in the affected areas may be limited — but the volume of inbound freight will likely remain the same, or even increase. 

This high-demand, low-supply situation can lead to increased detention and layovers. For shippers, all that waiting around translates to additional costs to make up for that downtime. It may also contribute to sluggishness across the supply chain as momentum bottlenecks at the delivery bay. 

What Can Shippers Do to Protect Their Supply Chains from Disruptive Events? 

The fact is, it’s hard to “unprecedented event”-proof your supply chain. Act-of-God events like hurricanes or infrastructure failures are undeniably disruptive, but there’s no way to know with any certainty how they’ll affect your shipments if they happen.

Even seemingly minor or benign events, like a big concert or a visiting dignitary, can trigger some of the above fluctuations in the freight market. While the April 2024 total solar eclipse was a major headline, many in the transportation industry were unaware of how it could impact their operations — imagine the unwelcome surprise, then, when their permitted freight was unable to move the week of the eclipse! 

Speaking of surprises: Some events, like an eclipse, can be planned for in advance, but others catch the industry and the world off guard.

The sudden collapse of the Key bridge affected both domestic and international freight due to its location in the Port of Baltimore. The COVID-19 pandemic had sweeping ramifications for shippers, carriers, drivers and end customers worldwide. 

It’s in these truly unexpected and wide-reaching situations that the industry — and your supply chain — feels the greatest impact. They cannot be planned for, namely because they are the first of their kind. And there’s simply no way to plan for every possible challenge your supply chain may face. 

So, is there anything shippers can do to protect their supply chains from disruptive events? 

Your best course of action is a two-pronged approach: Arm yourself with industry knowledge and work with a prepared transportation partner. 

Arm Yourself with Freight Industry Knowledge

Knowledge is power, but it’s also preparedness. By developing a deep well of industry knowledge before there’s a major disruption to your supply chain, you’ll feel more capable and confident in navigating the unforeseeable. 

Beyond standard best practices for shippers — vet all transportation providers in your network to ensure a quality partnership, be communicative and honest with your providers, stay flexible and open to alternatives, etc. — it’s a good idea to seek out resources that can inform you about how the industry (and shippers like you) has responded to disruptions in the past. 

For example, if you’re located in (or regularly ship within) a state with brutal winters, look for information on how blizzards and white-out conditions can affect shipping. 

Related: 5 Tactics for Avoiding Transportation Delays This Winter

If your freight travels through areas that experience a high level of construction and road projects during the warmer months, read up on how that might affect the time and cost on your shipments. 

Related: Construction Season: When it Starts and How it Impacts Open-Deck Freight Shipping

By taking small, proactive steps to understand the types of newsworthy events you may encounter and how the industry has been affected in the past, you can better protect your supply chain when disruptions do occur. 

A semi truck with a flatbed trailer in a snowy mountain scene

Work with a Prepared Partner

Undoubtedly, you already understand how important a network of dependable, responsive transportation partners is to your operations. 

This is especially true in moments of crisis, or when the unexpected throws a wrench into your supply chain. 

Working with providers that have extensive industry experience and a proven track record will make you more likely to successfully weather whatever disruption comes your way.

That’s because a great provider will work proactively on your behalf and, in the case of a foreseeable event like an eclipse or major sporting event, create a contingency plan early on. 

They’ll keep an eye on any travel restrictions or recommendations, the expected traffic increases, and potential coverage challenges well in advance. By keeping their finger on the pulse of the situation, they can use that up-to-date information to find solutions and keep your freight moving. 

Related: DOT Week 2024: What to Know About Blitz Week This May

Even if you’re thrown into navigating a totally unexpected interruption to your supply chain, your provider should still be responsive and quick to implement a contingency. 

When you’ve been in the industry as long as some veteran providers have, there are likely a few scenarios you haven’t responded to before — another strong case for working with a seasoned provider. 

Especially during truly unforeseen circumstances, clear and consistent communication is paramount. A good provider will stay in regular contact with you to keep you updated on any expected delays or changes in the plan.

If you’re worried about how your loads will move during a disruptive event — particularly if you’re shipping OD freight in areas under travel restrictions or major detours — be sure to discuss your concerns with your provider.

Related: How to Get Oversize Load Permits for Your Freight (3 Easy Steps)

Will Your Freight Network Be There For You?

Scan the headlines of any major newspaper: You’re all but guaranteed to see at least one event or circumstance that will affect the freight industry in some way. 

Regardless of your proximity to these newsworthy events, it’s wise to be aware of how they affect shippers like yourself. Even smaller, less dramatic events can cause capacity changes, shipping delays, cost fluctuations and more. 

By understanding the ways in which your supply chain could be interrupted — and how the industry has addressed those disruptions in the past —  you’ll better position yourself to survive and thrive if and when you’re directly affected. 

Now that you understand how newsworthy events can impact your shipping supply chain, you may be wondering if your current network of providers will rise to the occasion when and if such an event occurs. 

If that sounds like you, check out our free Transportation Provider Scorecard. This easy-to-use scorecard will help you vet your current providers’ performance, which can guide decisions about who in your network to retain and who to release.

Tags: Supply Chain Tips

Josh Porwoll

Written by Josh Porwoll

Since his first day with ATS back in Nov. 2007, Josh has found success in a number of roles. Following his 5 year stint as a national carrier representative, Josh transitioned into the role of operations manager in ATS's logistics division. Today, Josh is the director of operations and continually strives to create lasting relationships with customers and carriers alike.

Get the Latest Content Straight to Your Inbox!

We Have a Podcast! Find Us on Your Favorite App.

Apple Podcasts logoSpotify logoGoogle Podcasts logoAmazon Music logoAmazon Music logo

Beyond the Road Podcast logo

Recent Posts

Work With a Transportation Provider You Can Trust

You don't want your freight in just anyone's hands. Find a transportation provider that cares about your safety and your reputation. Learn how ATS can help.

Connect With an Expert