The Pentagon has for the first time activated an emergency civilian blood collection program to prepare for fighting in the Persian Gulf, blood bank officials said today.
The American Red Cross and American Assn. of Blood Banks received notification from the Pentagon to activate an emergency blood supply contract called the Armed Services Blood Program, officials said.
Beginning Monday, each association has been asked to begin sending 375 units of blood to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey each week and were told to prepare to supply a minimum of 800 units of blood per day if fighting breaks out, officials said.
The military usually collects most of the blood it needs for transfusions from military personnel but it faces the possibility of shortages because so many troops have been sent to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, officials said.
“The problem is they just deployed a lot of troops and are implementing this contract to cover themselves--to make sure their needs are met,” said Marcia Lane of the American Assn. of Blood Banks, which operates 2,400 blood centers nationwide.
“They have had some planning ongoing and they have determined how much blood they need at this point and how much they will need if hostilities break out, she said.
Although the military has had an agreement with civilian blood centers to supply blood in emergencies since World War II, the plan has never before been invoked, even during the Vietnam War, officials said.
“This is unusual because the military didn’t need to ask us for it during Vietnam. My guess is Vietnam was a long-drawn-out, low-level conflict, whereas if conflict does occur in the gulf it will be much more intense and therefore require much more blood at once to treat the wounded soldiers,” said Elizabeth Hall of the American Red Cross.
In addition to compensating for the lack of military donors, the activation of the contract is aimed at making sure any problems with the system are worked out before blood is needed urgently for wounded soldiers, officials said.
“It’s sort of a preparedness measure for both the Red Cross and military to ensure smooth shipment if needed,” Hall said. “Just in case they need us they want to make sure the system is working to get it to them.”
The request for 375 units of blood weekly will not put a strain on the civilian blood collection system, and neither association plans to call for more donations immediately, officials said.