The haunting videos and images of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsing into the Patapsco River are powerful and terrifying. The world will never be able to unsee them.

Combined with the 2021 snapshots of container ships lining up at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, these images will become iconic tools in teaching supply-chain management for years to come. They will serve as a stark reminder of the fragility of our global supply-chain networks.

But, at the risk of downplaying the economic impact of the bridge collapse, its effect on national and global supply chains may be less than some believe. In fact, it’s safe to say we are not experiencing a supply-chain crisis now and won’t be in the near or long term.

The Port of Baltimore receives more than 800,000 imported vehicles each year, making it the largest auto import hub in the United States. The port is a critical part of the global automotive supply chain. As I like to say, in the world of U.S. auto ports, Baltimore is like Taylor Swift: Her absence, even for a few weeks, would be felt around the world.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Port of Baltimore has stopped ships from coming in and out, sending ripples far and wide as automakers scramble to reroute shipments and truckers adjust routes.

Still, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that the economic downturn will be contained. Amid uncertainty among authorities and companies about when the Port of Baltimore will fully reopen, DHL executives said they expect the port to reopen in about six weeks. More reassuringly, there has been no major reaction in the financial markets, with JPMorgan analysts saying the port problems are unlikely to have a significant impact on the overall U.S. economy.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said there is no timeline for when the port will reopen.

The supply-chain chaos amid the COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call to create more resilient networks. Diversified sourcing, additional regional buffers and the use of digital visibility tools have strengthened supply chains against disruptions.

Most certainly, these safeguards will be put to the test in Baltimore. While some delays and localized shortages are inevitable as inventories are temporarily depleted, the impact should be less severe than previous supply shocks.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Key Bridge collapse must be viewed in the context of the increasing fragmentation of global supply chains into geopolitical blocs. As I warned in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we are entering an era of supply-chain “iron curtains” that will separate economic allies from rivals.

This has created an urgent need for the auto industry to reduce its dependence on competitors such as China and Russia for critical materials and components. A concerted effort is underway to shift more of the supply chain to our neighbors such as Mexico and allies such as European Union countries. This is part of the ongoing global supply-chain transition that will continue for years to come.

With its strategic location, the Port of Baltimore is set to benefit from this transition. It has a logistical advantage in distributing goods to a large portion of the U.S. population because it is closer to the Midwest than any other East Coast port. It is also easily accessible from Mexico and Europe. It is establishing itself as a key logistics hub for the automotive sector’s transition to a North America-centric supply chain aligned with the United States and its allies. Prior to the disruption, imported vehicles through Baltimore had returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The impact on the Port of Baltimore illustrates how important individual transportation hubs have become in our integrated, multimodal supply chains. The Key Bridge, true to its name, was a key interchange point for ocean, truck and rail modes. With much of the automotive logistics flow centered on hubs like Baltimore, the failure of one link presents vulnerability. Although diversification has improved, supply chains will always be vulnerable to disruptions at critical nodes such as bridges, ports and rail terminals.

Securing these connecting points through investments in hardening, redundancy and contingency plans must become a national priority. We cannot underestimate the cascading effect that a regional failure could have on continentwide supply-chain flows in industries such as automobiles, energy and agriculture.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Key Bridge crisis underscores the critical importance of investing in infrastructure and skilled logistics capabilities as a competitive advantage. The Port of Baltimore is strategically positioned as a major hub for reshoring and friend-shoring supply chains in the geopolitical context. Its role is only expected to grow.

Our response to this crisis will determine whether we maintain this strategic advantage. If recovery efforts continue indefinitely, we risk losing this opportunity to more ambitious hubs.

It is incumbent on federal, state and local leaders to respond quickly and make the rapid restoration of the Port of Baltimore operations their top priority. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and livelihoods in the port area are at risk.

Consumers concerned about the impact may experience delays in auto shipments and temporary inventory shortages, depending on how quickly workarounds can be implemented. But, given the hard lessons learned during the past decade, significant price shocks or product shortages are unlikely unless recovery efforts stall.

In many ways, our response to the Key Bridge collapse will help reshape our global supply chains — from an era of efficiency and low cost to one of resilience, security and strategic autonomy. Baltimore’s recovery will reveal whether we are truly committed to this critical transition.

Tinglong Dai is the Bernard T. Ferrari Professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, co-chair of the Johns Hopkins Workgroup on AI and Healthcare, which is part of the Hopkins Business of Health Initiative, and vice president of marketing, communication and outreach at INFORMS.

More From The Banner