FORT BRAGG, N.C., JAN. 16 -- The Defense Department for the first time will rely partially on civilian blood banks to supply any blood needed because of the fighting in the Persian Gulf.

In December, the Pentagon activated an emergency contract it signed in the 1960s with the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks to ensure a steady supply of civilian-donated blood to meet medical needs caused by the war.

At the same time, the Navy and the Army have prohibited Red Cross centers on military bases from collecting blood from military personnel, their dependents or civilian Defense Department employees so these donors will be available only to the military, Col. Anthony Polk, director of the Defense Department's Armed Services Blood Services Office, said today.

The measures are further indications of the intense nature of the fighting the military anticipates will take place in the Persian Gulf.

"This is going to be a high-intensity, short scenario," Polk said. "You're going to get a lot of {wounded} quickly. The military can't take that hit alone."

The military, which operates its own blood programs at 70 centers across the country, was self-sufficient in blood needs during the Vietnam War and in the short-term conflicts it has been involved in since then.

In December, the Red Cross and the blood banks association began supplying the military with 375 pints of blood a week. Three weeks ago, that amount was increased to 1,000 pints a week; the contract calls for them to supply as much as 1,000 pints a day if the need arises, said Elizabeth Hall, a Red Cross spokeswoman.

Civilian accident victims or patients who receive blood as part of cancer therapy, for example, typically use five pints during each transfusion, Hall said.

The military is paying $60 to $90 a pint for the blood, which covers the costs of testing, processing and transportation.

Although the Red Cross has collected blood since 1937, this is the first time the organization, which collects an average of 20,000 pints daily nationwide, has become a formal supply source for the military.

"It's certainly something we're taking very seriously," Hall said. Emergency service "is what we do best, so we are certainly ready."

Hall said supplying both civilian and military blood needs during a military crisis "is a balance the Red Cross and other blood banks are going to have to strike." Neither one will get preference over the other, she noted.

The civilian-collected blood is being stored in one of 50 freezers at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. If needed, it will be transported to Saudi Arabia for use by U.S. troops in Operation Desert Storm there.

Last year, the Defense Department began a frozen blood program, the goal of which is to collect and freeze 200,000 pints in five years "just to be prepared," Polk said.

Blood can be frozen for up to 20 years, he said. U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines state that it must be used within 24 hours of being thawed.

The military, however, uses it up to three days after it has been thawed, Polk said.