Martie Moore’s fateful flight began like hundreds before it. But it ended like no other.

Medline’s chief nursing officer was traveling from Chicago to Pittsburgh last year when a tornado got in the way. In less than two seconds, her plane descended more than 5,000 feet.

She suddenly heard the plane making some very unsettling noises, as landing gear was instantly chewed up. She saw a passenger sitting in the exit row have a full-fledged panic attack, unable to loosen his grip from the seat in front of him.

But she also saw how preparation and practice can pay off at clutch time. Against some serious odds, the pilot managed to land the plane safely.

Moore recounted her white-knuckle flying adventure this week in San Diego, during Argentum’s annual Senior Living Executive Conference.

But she didn’t just deliver a spell-binding story about a near-death experience. Moore offered real insight into overcoming a real occupational hazard in this sector right now: fear.

Let’s face it: these are stressful times to be in this business. And for many operators unsure of what to do or where to turn, they can be downright frightening. Fear can paralyze an organization and stifle its leaders. So how best to manage that risk? The answer is simple, Moore said. Prepare repeatedly, so performance is automatic when it’s most needed.

The heroic pilot didn’t save the day by pulling off some Top Gun-type maneuver. He landed the plane safely because he had been trained what to do when a real crisis occurs. He followed the protocols and had practiced them so often that muscle memory kicked in at crunch time.

So how goes it at your organization? Are your staff members sufficiently prepared to handle a shooter in the building? Or Mother Nature’s next unpleasant outburst? Or will your team be forced to improvise at the height of a crisis? That’s not planning my friends. That’s wishful thinking.

A hope and a prayer is no plan for landing a disabled airplane. And it’s certainly a questionable way to run a senior living organization. That is, unless the occasional crash landing doesn’t bother you.

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.